Having cruised a number of times with RCCL (on Brilliance & Navigator), and with Cunard QM2 once, my husband and I were keen to check out Celebrity Cruises.
Based on their marketing blurb and normal price range, our expectation was that they would be a step up from RCCL, pretty much across the board, but a step down from Cunard.
Despite a number of minor suggested improvements and gripes below, I enjoyed our cruise overall -- our itinerary was interesting, and Celebrity Equinox is a very nice ship, but in practice she did not prove to be the across-the-board step up from her sister company RCCL, that the marketing hype and pricing strategy would have you believe.
Pre-Cruise Hotel Info
- Having sailed from Citiavecchia on previous cruises, this time we decided to select a pre-cruise hotel close by the Termini, and selected Hotel IQ Roma based on Tripadvisor reviews. It was spotlessly clean, modern, with a great bathroom, good breakfast, convenient vending machines, tranquil rooftop terrace, firm but comfortable bed. Just a few negatives -- free internet speed was awful, and there were no English-speaking TV channels, beyond Sky News.
- Most customers on our trip were from the US or Canada -- relatively few Brits on board and even fewer from Northern Ireland (where we are from).
- We found that the dress code on board was quite casual -- more so than we have experienced with RCCL. We could have done with bringing fewer formal clothes.
- We found Celebrity to be extremely sales-focused -- we kept being engaged by staff in numerous random and artificial conversations which invariably ended in an awkward specialty restaurant sales pitch. We didn't like this aspect at all -- we go on holiday to relax .. not to be subjected to sales pressure.
- Equinox is probably the most beautiful ship we have been on -- our admittedly limited experience so far includes RCCL's Brilliance of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas, and Cunard's QM2. She is a much newer ship and it shows -- the public areas are much more modern and plush/opulent than any of the aforementioned ships.
- Another plus is that she doesn't seem to have one single overriding corporate colour theme, which I found refreshing after a surfeit of royal blue on RCCL.
- No ancient slot machines or gym equipment for Equinox -- all of the kit in both the huge casino and gym is both modern and in excellent working condition.
- Upon first sight, I thought that the Lawn Club (the top deck of the ship which is covered in grass) was amazing, a real spectacle. But by the end of our trip, I wondered whether this was truly the best use of that space. Personally I would have preferred a few more entertainment venues and spaces throughout the ship.
- I struggled to decide between Equinox and QM2 in terms of which was the best stateroom we have enjoyed. In the end, I decided on Equinox, due to the comparative newness of the fixtures and furnishings (our QM2 stateroom furnishings were looking tired and in need of replacement when we sailed in Nov 2010). Our aft balcony room on Equinox was decorated in modern style and in warm colours, and was comfortable and stylish. I was impressed by the provision of several useful facilities such as bathrobes, coathooks, over-bed wall storage cabinets.
- A few gripes: no stateroom kettle was provided, the aircon located above the wardrobe was a little too audible at night when trying to sleep, the drawers tended to overheat -- due to mac-based entertainment centre located behind them and the fridge to the other side of them. The aircon produced extremely dry air -- my husband and I suffered from respiratory discomfort throughout our cruise, but in particular while in our stateroom, and towards the end of our cruise I began to develop flu symptoms.
- The balcony itself was a perfect size (we were located right above the blue 'skirt' at the aft of the ship, above Tuscan Grille I think), and I think about 1/3rd larger than the norm, however while in port we did not always enjoy privacy while in our stateroom -- on a few occasions there were maintenance personnel walking around outside our balcony. The balcony furniture was better quality and more functional than I have enjoyed previously. However, rather strangely, no external balcony light had been fitted.
- The bathroom is probably the best I have come across at sea. Firstly it is a bit larger than the norm. The shower is all glass -- no icky RCCL plastic shower curtain to contend with. The shower is easy to operate and gives a good strong spray. The sink is a little less well designed as the tap is located outside the bowl, hence water tends to get everywhere in the process of turning off the tap. But the steam-free mirror is a great addition, as this has always been a problem on previous cruise lines. The nightlight is a great idea too.
- In order to try and reduce luggage weight, I had not brought my own shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, etc., and had planned to rely on Celebrity toiletries. Big mistake as the toiletries provided are poor quality, the shampoo and conditioner in particular left my hair a tangled mess and I was obliged to buy my own at the first port.
- However what I assume was the docking process was very noisy and very audible in our room - the whole room felt as though it were vibrating - and was sufficient to wake me in the early hours of the morning.
Main Dining Room:
- The food was mostly good, but there were some issues. The bread I found to be bland and doughy -- sometimes a little stale. There was always the same bread selection from night to night, and they didn't look or taste as though they were entirely made from scratch. I was glad that we had a table for two and a bread basket to ourselves, as I witnessed the diners from other larger tables dig deep amongst the bread, due to the narrow design of the basket. From a hygiene perspective it would surely be better for the waiters to serve the bread with tongs, like RCCL and Cunard do.
- We enjoyed some very fine entrees, the veal in particular was excellent, however there were a few issues with poor quality cuts of meat (I could barely cut through, let alone eat the favourites menu sirloin steak), and overcooking of poultry, to the extent that it was so dry as to be unappetising. I found that there were also insufficient vegetables provided with entrees.
- The desserts were the worst of all three cruise lines I have experienced, and I can only think that Celebrity urgently need to hire a new Head Patisserie Chef on Equinox. There were too many mousse-based desserts offered, where someone in the kitchen had clearly gone overboard with gelatine, and where there was pastry it tended towards being dry and hard. Cakes suffered from dryness and blandness. Meringues were hard as rocks and too sweet. On the last formal night we were not given a choice of dessert, but instead provided with baked alaska, consisting of too-hard ice cream covered in uncooked egg white foam, albeit with a burnt layer on top. Burnt Alaska.
- Our waiters and sommelier were attentive, efficient, and pleasant, but on some evenings there was an overly long wait between courses, which seemed to occur on those nights on which the dining room was at full capacity.
- I feel that Menu choices were limited, although I know that Celebrity would maintain otherwise. Their menu each night is split in half -- left hand side page is full of what they term 'standard cruise food', and the right hand side contains items which vary from night to night. For each course (appetiser, soup/salad, entree, dessert), there are three options available under both the 'standard cruise food' and the 'variable' menu. So six options in total for each course. Fair enough you may say -- but my problem is that the 'standard cruise food' never changed once during our 11 night cruise. So in practice, diners were offered only three 'new' meals per course each night. This compared unfavourably with RCCL and Cunard, who from memory seemed to offer at least six choices for every course -- and these changed every night. The result was that some nights we didn't like any of the 3 variable choices and ended up choosing reluctantly from the 'favourites menu', which frankly was boring. Celebrity, you have got to allow some variety into the favourites menu. I know that there are some who will argue that you cannot maintain consistently high food quality when catering to probably 700-800 customers per sitting. However Cunard manage to get this right, as their MDR food was consistently superb. Perhaps this is reflective of the amount of budget each line allocates to its catering -- but even RCCL do a better job in their MDR than Celebrity.
- Food quality here was hit and miss, which you would expect from a buffet, but I was surprised to find that I would rate RCCL's Windjammer cafe more highly than Sea Cafe -- there is more choice and more variety with RCCL.
- Also, in Sea Cafe there seemed to be a greater prevalence of 'plastic' foods, especially mousse-type desserts.
- However Sea Cafe did have a few great extras -- a range of ice creams, frozen yoghurts and sorbets, plus sweet dispensers (jelly beans, jelly babies, m&ms, etc).
- Also Sea Cafe used real porcelain plates and mugs -- no horrible RCCL-type plastic crockery.
- Here we found the service to be 'attentive' to say the least, even a little overwhelming, but equally we watched others complain as they were seated for over 20 minutes without the sommelier taking their order.
- Our table was seated a little too close to the kitchen door for my liking -- there was no a peaceful ambiance due to much coming and going by waiting staff (note to self: demand a specific table when next making a reservation). I envied diners at the opposite end of the restaurant.
- The food was not to my liking due to its being far too rich and stodgy. I had to send back my starter, onion soup, due to the fact that it appeared to have an entire slice of soggy disintegrating bread within it, together with a wholly disproportionate amount of cheese. My husband ordered the same starter, and determinedly struggled his way through it -- I watched on in amusement as he ate his 'soup' with a fork and knife! For my entree, I ordered the rib eye steak, which was acceptable (although I had better steak in the MDR) however when ordering I unfortunately did not pay attention to the side dish that came with it - which was macaroni cheese, and an extremely fatty, creamy, heavy one at that - I could not eat it, certainly not as a side-dish to the steak. My dessert was Tiramasu, and while delicious and well-presented, again was rather heavy and stodgy
- If I sail with Celebrity again, would I pay the surcharge to dine in Tuscan Grille again? No, their food simply wasn't to my taste -- however others may love it.
Cafe Al Bacio:
- At this stylish venue, we enjoyed prompt and pleasant service. Comfortable armchairs. Low-hanging Pendant shades over each table, which were too easy to bang your head off accidentally. Windows you could actually see out of. And I loved the heavyweight branded crockery. I ordered white chocolate mocha and caramel macchiato on separate occasions, they were satisfactory but not outstanding. While very pleasant, the ice-cream did not taste superior in quality or texture to that offered 'for free' in the sea cafe. However the freshly-made waffles were delicious.
- We found that the bars had relatively limited opening hours compared to RCCL -- which meant that the opportunities to use your pre-paid soda card where most convenient, were limited. E.g. trivia quizzes held at a bar, which isn't yet open to get a drink. Barmen who decline to serve, 'because the bar is not open for another ten minutes'. It's also the first time we have come across a cruise ship nightclub with only 4 cocktails on the menu. Windows were obscured/frosted in lower level public areas and bars, which we did not like -- we feel that part of the fun and enjoyment of being at sea, is of course being able to see that you are at sea! However, the soda card drinks did come in tins, which we really liked, and not the usual pump drinks supplied by RCCL and Cunard (which .. even when they aren't 80% full of icecubes ... taste as though they are watered down).
- Our Platinum membership with RCCL entitled us to the equivalent Select membership with Celebrity, hence we enjoyed speedy boarding, meaning that embarkation took only ten minutes from arrival at the port.
- We also enjoyed special functions including the Captain's party, Senior Officer's Cocktail party etc. The latter offered a decent range of complimentary alcoholic beverages including wines and various cocktails and beers.
- However Celebrity's past member voucher deals booklet wasn't worth the paper it was printed on -- the deals were nowhere near as good as those offered by RCCL, and, unusually for us, we weren't tempted to use any of them.
- The hot glass show on the Lawn Club was superb, and really absorbed our attention. We enjoyed visiting the show at night, and if it happened to get a little chilly, Celebrity laid on fleece blankets and chicken soup for guests.
- Overall the Activities Staff seemed a little insipid and too laid back, compared to those I have experienced with RCCL and Cunard. Sure, they interacted with the guests a lot, but there were no 'strong characters', none of them really stood out for us, and I felt that there wasn't the same sense of community on the Equinox, that I have felt with other ships. I think that having a really strong Activities Team is central to this.
- The Activities Staff also seemed to suffer from not having a proper function room for their dance lessons, which tended to be held in the small centrum space, however this did make for the entertainment of other guests in the surrounding area and balconies upstairs. Equinox doesn't seem to have the equivalent of a 'Colony Club', with a large dance/activities floor, that they have on RCCL.
- The range of free activities offered seemed less varied than those offered by RCCL and Cunard. Scrapbooking was about as interesting as it got, and on too many occasions we found ourselves at a loose end on sea days. Thankfully there were plenty of ports on our itinerary. I don't think I could consider doing a transatlantic or repositioning cruise with Celebrity.
- Too many of the more interesting activities indicated on the Daily Planner had costs associated, compared with other cruise lines. Even afternoon tea had a cost attached.
- I really liked Equinox's more 'intimate' theatre -- the stage jutts forward into the audience more, meaning better visibility of acts. However the theatre seemed relatively small compared to the number of passengers and on a few nights there were insufficient seats, meaning that we had to stand.
- The Celebrity dancers are the best I have seen on any cruise ship -- great dancers and more modern routines than are the norm. Celebrity singers -- not so much. The lead female vocalist has a voice which is best described as 'penetrating'.
- I loved the 'Lemon Squeezy' acapella group, and the electric guitarist (whose name I have forgotten already!). These were both resident lounge acts who also took a turn in the main theatre some nights.
- Other acts included a comedian and a magician, both of whom were pretty good ... and the McDonald Brothers, who apparently came 4th in some ancient X-Factor TV competition, and who, while they were pleasant enough to listen to, for a song or two, were unfortunately allowed to perform an entire evening show in the theatre.
- The mac-powered stateroom entertainment is a great facility most of the time, with a fantastic range of paid and free on demand movies, however on a few nights it kept crashing & buffering. Even when this was fixed, we found that the system still stuttered over background music in films.
Port & Shore Excursions
- We didn't book any Celebrity excursions, in favour of exploring the ports for ourselves, but were very impressed by the 'Welcome back' facilities which Celebrity lay on for guests returning to the ship following their day's activity in each port. These typically included drinks of water or chicken soup, plus wet facecloths and chilled towels. A brilliant idea, and one that even Cunard haven't thought to offer their guests.
Cleaning & Laundry:
- The public areas and bathrooms were cleaned to a very high standard, and the provision of individual cloth hand towels in the public bathrooms were appreciated, as were the flushable loo seat covers!
- However, given that you can always guarantee that a few guests will not have been properly house-trained, never mind toilet-trained, a more-or-less permanent bathroom attendant may have been a good idea for some of the larger bathrooms.
- While overall our stateroom appeared to be cleaned to a high standard, I will say that our stateroom bathroom cleaning had some room for improvement.
- It was also disappointing that there was no onboard self-service laundry facility -- while RCCL don't have this, they do have better discounted laundry offers.
- We opted for the early disembarkation option in order to ensure to catch our mid-day flight home, and walked our own luggage off -- which was a simple and quick process (we only had to wait ten minutes in the lounge to be called) and one I would avail of again.
So, Equinox basically hasn't made the impression upon me that I feel she is potentially capable of. This was a mostly good cruise, which ought to have been a great cruise, had Equinox lived up to the hype.
I would certainly consider booking Celebrity again, in particular where the price and itinerary are right. I would be interested to try at least one other Celebrity ship in order to try and establish how they compare with Equinox.