My wife and I are relatively experienced cruisers, having been on 11 during the past 8 years. We've often been on Celebrity and like it a lot, but up to now our experience with them was limited to Constellation and her sister ship Millenium. So we decided to try this repo cruise on Equinox, flying to Rome, picking up the ship in Civitavecchia and then leisurely returning to Ft. Lauderdale via Florence, Toulon, Cartagena (Spain) and Madeira.
Things to like:
Embarkation at Civitavecchia. Some people on previous cruises had had long lines and lots of wait time. I guess we were lucky. Our bus arrived, we got off and literally walked straight up to the booking agent (it looked like they had at least 40 of them at the long counter). Since we had done the paperwork online I signed for the credit card, got our pictures taken and then we were onboard. Painless.
Equinox is much newer and it shows. The general layout of the ship is much more user-friendly. Much less congestion in common areas, elevators are much better laid out and traffic flow never seems to get congested. And this was on a cruise where we had an inordinately large number of passengers who required assistance such as wheelchairs. Never had to wait more than 2 minutes at most for an elevator.
The cafeteria is a joy compared to older ships. Gone are the trays and long lines to get served. Instead, food is available at different 'islands' throughout the area. There is a much wider choice of types of food available - on top of the daily offerings there is always pasta, pizza, Mexican, Stir Fry (with healthy doses of Indian curries and other spicy things) plus the usual mile-long dessert offerings. A great improvement over the old design.
Our cabin was bright, clean, very well laid out and with an improved shower design that does away with the nasty, cold wet shower curtain that always gets you no matter how hard you try to avoid it. Instead a semicircular sliding glass door design lets you shower in comfort (if not in much room). There is less closet space than on older ships which makes stroring stuff more of a challenge but it can be done.
The Main Dining room is ultra-modern (more on this later), bright and shiny. The daily menu continues with Celebrity's tradition of having two sides to it - on the left, standard items (Shrimp cocktail, Salmon, steak, etc.) that are always available. On the right, the offerings of the day. There are usually 3-4 appetizer offerings, 2 soups to choose from, a couple of salads and about six main plates, of which one is always vegetarian, one fish, one chicken and the others at the Chef's choice. Service was the usual impeccable Celebrity quality.
The food was generally good with the exception of the soups (more on this later). The quality of beef offerings was uniformly excellent - in fact the Chateaubriand and Filet Mignon were among the best I've had any place. The lamb dishes were a little tough, and some of the other offerings were a little 'strange' in their form and presentation. But on the whole the Dining Room food was quite nice.
There are a lot of bars and a lot of shops. In fact, many of the nice secluded areas the old ships had where you would just sit, read, relax or just daydream are gone, converted to income-producing space. These areas too are ultra modern. The bars were disappointing, as every mixed drink my wife and I tried was noticeably weak. They advertise a "2 oz. pour" on their recipes of the cocktail of the day - in fact, as a former bartender (in my youth) I would say the average is probably closer to .6 of an oz. The shops have the usual assortment of chatzhkes and last-minute stuff. The jewelry stores prices were much higher than on other ships/cruise lines.
We didn't watch too much of the onboard entertainment. What we did see, with the exception of the band and singer providing nightly dance music in the central area was pretty much repo cruise standard - comedians whose day wasn't fading because it had never come, etc. The on board movies were such old offerings that they obviously were available at no cost to Celebrity.
Things not so good:
Number one on the list has to be the Internet onboard. I have never seen such a mess on any ship before. There was no time I tried to use it that it was not filled with passengers complaining about the lack of connectivity, down machines, etc. I calculate that, of the amount I spent on online minutes at least half were wasted on "failure to connect", "diagnose problem" and "your message failed to go through - please try later". There were plenty of IT personnel available, but they could do little but try and placate angry passengers as best they could. Fortunately on this trip I did not really need to use the Internet for e-mail, except for routine family chit-chat. However if I had HAD to be able to use e-mail (as on my previous cruise) to conclude an important real estate deal I would have totally be unable to do so.
This lack of technology is really inexcusable on a much newer ship, since I never experienced it on either Constellation or Millenium. I don't know if Celebrity intends to do anything about it but it's really a red flag.
Number is is more of a personal complaint. The Cafeteria food had the strange quality of looking really good when you saw it presented but not so hot when you actually tasted it. From the watery, strangely colored scrambled eggs presented every day in the morning to the four daily offerings in the cafeteria, every meal I had in these two spots was disappointing. I don't know if it was overcooking, lack of seasoning, or what but most of it just wasn't very good. The soups were all good tasting but all tasted like they had added a couple of quarts of water to them to make them stretch. Never had this experience before. I understand that 'cafeteria food is cafeteria food' but there is a problem here.
I personally found the ship's decor, especially the Main Dining Room to have gone overboard in is quest for Modernity. The Main D.R. is ablaze with chrome, light colors and bold design that reminded me of nothing so much as the sales floor at Macy's. For dining it is a cold, uninviting, harsh atmosphere that is supposed to "wow" but instead is more of an "Ow". They got carried away on this one.
Disembarking: Disembarking was a painless as embarking. We had head horror stories of hours-long waits in Ft. Lauderdale due to Homeland Security but the problem seems to have been solved. We were off the ship and grabbing a taxi less then 30 minutes after starting.