This isn't your typical cruise review, so if you're a first time cruiser, you might not want to read this. I don't want to turn you off cruising before you even start! Cruising, I believe, is the best vacation you can take. I'd go again next week, if I had the time.
OK now, Mar. 15, was Embarkation Day: Normally we like to get to the pier about 11am so we can get checked in, and get up to the cafe for lunch around noon. This cruise, we got to the check in at about 10:45, got our Sea Pass cards, and were told that Immigration still hasn't released all the passengers from the previous cruise, and that embarkation would be delayed. Almost 3 hours later, the word came down that the ship is now cleared to accept passengers. This was in no way an issue that Celebrity could be blamed for. We got onto the ship at approx. 2:30pm, was handed our complimentary glass of champagne, and then headed up to the Oceanview Cafe for lunch. The cafe is like the Windjammer Cafe on the Royal Caribbean ships that we normally cruise on, except I don't think there was as much food. (This got my first Hmmm.....) We ate in the main dining room the first night, and at that point made up our minds that we wouldn't be eating there every night. We had a table for 4, my wife and I and two friends that have cruised with us before. Our table was between a table for 2 at the window, and another table for 4. We were the first ones there (of the 3 tables), followed shortly by the other 4-some, and a few minutes later, the couple by the window. Now, normally if you are the first to arrive, you are the first to be served. Not here. Once all 10 of us were seated at our 3 separate tables, the waiter started to hand out the menus. He then took the orders of the other 4-some, ours, and then the couple. The waiter was very professional mind you, and his assistant waiter (who was also his wife!) was very attentive to our needs as well. They did make the meal enjoyable, but it did take a little over an hour for dinner, and we're not ones to sit at a table that long. Also, because there's only 2 floors to the main dining room, they seemed to use up all the floor space they could for tables, and it felt a little claustrophobic. After dinner, we went to the theatre for the Welcome Aboard show, and this is when I felt that this cruise wasn't going to be like a Royal Caribbean cruise. The cruise director, Jason, just didn't seem to have the energy that other cruise directors have. The sound and lighting in the theatre also didn't seem to be the best. But, this is still the first night, so let's wait and see. Not like we can just get off and go to another ship!
Days 1 & 2 - At Sea days: The 2 days at sea were alright, with a calm sea, but a little on the windy side. We couldn't really sit on the cabin veranda because of the wind, and deck 14 above the pool, and the Lawn Club and Solstice Decks, were also very windy. At one point, the wind picked up one of the lounges and dropped it onto another one! On day 1, I took in a bit of the action on the Lawn Club, watching the golfers putter around, and also watched a bit of the Hot Glass Show. Should've checked that out later in the week too, as it seemed pretty interesting. We just kind of wandered around the ship, checking out the different areas, the shops, the Internet cafe, for the 2 sea days. Speaking of the Internet Cafe, or Celebrity Online as they call it, this is one area that I believe Royal Caribbean has a better idea. On Celebrity, they give discount coupons to Captains Club members for the internet packages. Even though this was our first cruise on Celebrity, we are Diamond members in Royal's Crown & Anchor Society which, when we enrolled in the Captains Club gave us the status of Elite members. This got us each a coupon for 90 minutes of internet for $49.95. We had to buy the $49.95 package, hand in the coupon, and a day later, we got the credit. And you do all this with the Celebrity Online staff. On Royal Caribbean, you go to the Guest Relations desk, hand them the coupon from the C&A Coupon book for the 90 minutes of internet, and they put the credit right on your Sea Pass card. When you log in or out of the computers, you know how much time you have left.
Day 3-7: These were port days, so I'm not going to say a lot about them. We've been to most of these ports numerous times. St. Kitts, and Dominica were new ports for us, and one of the reasons for taking this cruise. The ports in order were 1: Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, 2: Basseterre, St. Kitts, 3: Bridgetown, Barbados, 4: Roseau, Dominica and 5: Philipsburg, St. Maarten.
What I will say about all these other days, is the issue with eating dinner in the Oceanview Cafe. (We only ate in the main dining room one other night, the second Formal night, so my wife could have her lobster!) Again, I'm going to do a comparison with Royal Caribbean and the Windjammer Cafe. When you sail with Royal, and you decide you want to eat in the Windjammer at dinner time, and not in the dining room, they don't open the doors until 6pm, the same time as the dining room. This way, all the food stations are properly set up and staffed, the food is always nice and hot when it's supposed to be, or cold and fresh, as in the salad bar or sushi. Your napkin and utensils will already be at a table waiting, and most, if not all the tables, are set. You will always see a lot of people doing the casual dining in the Windjammer. In the Oceanview Cafe, the doors never close. The place is open 24 hours for small snacks and coffee/tea/lemonade/ice water drinks, so they never really have the time to set it up properly for dinner. The hot foods are at best, very warm, and the warm foods are barely warm. On the last night, I took a piece of grilled salmon from the tray that the cook had just taken off the grill. When I got to my table, I cut into it, and only the outer 1/8" of the fish was cooked. The centre was still raw! I didn't say anything. I just left in on the plate. Telling them wouldn't have made much difference because I would've just been told to take another piece. Serving food like this in the cafe at dinner, got me to thinking that they do this on purpose, so you would either go to the main dining room, or better still, pay for a meal at one of the 4 specialty restaurants. I was really missing the Windjammer.
Day 8- The Second Formal night: This is also the first of the last 2 sea days. We decided to go to the dining room so my wife could have her lobster dinner. I had the grilled tuna steaks, and enjoyed them very much. I will say that the food in the dining room was excellent, and the service was very good. It's just that it takes so long.
Day 9- Final day at sea. I guess this could also be counted as day 10 because it is the last full day for the cruise. Like all the other sea days, trying to find a lounge near the pool was next to impossible, so we spent more time just wandering around the ship.
Entertainment on the ship was really good. The guest entertainers were all very good, which included a juggler who was a finalist on America's Got Talent, Charles Peachock. International vocalist Jack Walker. A pianist (who's name escapes me at the moment) that was apparently very good (we didn't go to his show). The Equinox singers and dancers put on 3 different productions, with the final one that looked like a Cirque du Soleil production. There was also a comedian on the first night, that did an adult show on the second night. (Can't recall his name, but will edit this when I find it!). My only complaint about the entertainment was that it was not always in an area that made it enjoyable to watch. Most of the 'after the theatre' shows were done on deck 3 in the Centrum so that they were close to all the bars. This is where I think Royal has Celebrity beat again, because on most of their ships, there's a lounge just above the theatre where you can go right after the main show is over, and sit and watch one of the bands, and dance, or just relax. On Royal, they also use the theatre for other things, like the Love and Marriage Game Show, where on the Equinox they held their version in the Skyview Lounge on deck 15.
It may sound like I didn't enjoy my cruise on the Celebrity Equinox, but I really did. It's a beautiful ship, with lots of interesting areas to explore. I just wouldn't go as far as saying it's a 'luxury cruise ship'. Our cabin stewards were just fantastic, and the cabin was also very nice. I have to admit though, the showers are bigger than anything on Royal! Crew is generally friendly, but can still do better.
This is the biggest complaint I had from the entire cruise. We decided to take the 'Express Checkout' option, where you are among the first group of passengers to leave the ship, and you carry your luggage off with you. We had a 1:45pm flight to Buffalo so we wanted to make sure that customs wasn't going to hold us up too long, and cause us to miss our flight. Well, we got our instructions to meet down on deck 5 in the Equinox Theatre at 7:15am and that is what we did. We got the elevator on deck 8 (our floor) with luggage in tow, down to deck 5 (stopping at every floor!), and out to the theatre. It was CLOSED!!! Not a soul around from Celebrity. There was already more than 50 people standing outside the elevator doors with their luggage, looking for some direction. This was at 7am, 15 minutes before we were to meet. By 7:30am, there was over 100 people blocking the stairs, the elevators, and the entry way into the theatre. At this point a young lady in a gray skirt and jacket carrying a radio, opened the theatre doors, on the port side only. The gangway was on the starboard side. This allowed room for some of the throng to move away from the elevators to allow more victims to exit, and wait. Our friend went into the theatre to find out some information, but there wasn't much to be had. He did however hear that they are letting people off at the mid-ship gangway only, so he suggested we walk down to the other end of the ship, and try to get off there. We walked outside on deck 5 towards the other end, and re-entered through the doors near the mid-ship elevators and out the other side. This is where another miserable Celebrity employee with a phone and radio was giving instructions to leave the ship. I made a comment to her that there's close to 200 people on the stairs and floor at the other end (which is a severe safety/fire violation I'm sure) awaiting instructions and permission to leave the ship. She said "if people would just go where they were told to go, they could be off the ship by now", at which point I replied that we were told to go the theatre on deck 5 and wait further instructions. She just looked at me and said, "there's two lines so please keep them moving". Except for the security on the gangway watching everybody use their sea pass cards to leave the ship, these two women were the only two Celebrity employees we saw as we were leaving. On Royal Caribbean, they have at least one person in each dining room, each level of the theatre, and each lounge with coffee/tea and snacks waiting for you on departure day. They keep you updated as to when you can leave, and when you do leave, they say 'Goodbye'.
Once we finally got off the ship, then it was another long wait, as US Border and Customs agents only had 2 open booths. And they were slow. But, like on embarkation day, this wasn't an issue that Celebrity could be blamed for.
This was our first cruise on Celebrity, and unfortunately, will probably be our only cruise on Celebrity. We will cruise again, but only with Royal Caribbean. Come on RCCL, show these people on Celebrity how it should be done.