About us: We sailed on March 15th to the Southern Caribbean (10-nights). After many years of sailing on Royal Caribbean, this was our fourth Celebrity Cruise. The itinerary included: St. Thomas, St. Kitts, Barbados, Dominica, and St. Maarten. Our little group consisted of two couples: us and our best friends, with whom we have cruised many times.
Embarkation: The worst we have ever encountered at Ft. Lauderdale. It was clear that there were serious Customs/Immigration issues, as disembarkation of the previous cruise was very slow. We were checked in by 11:00 a.m., but boarding did not commence for another two and a half hours. Celebrity did their best to make everyone comfortable. The suite area was nice, but even that became quite crowded by the time we were allowed to board.
Ship / Cabin: Equinox was as lovely as I remember Solstice being. Everything was in good repair, and spotlessly clean. We did not have a lighted make-up mirror in our suite, but one was eventually provided, upon request. These used to be listed among the suite amenities, but apparently they no longer are. We also did not have a corkscrew to open our wine. All of our previous staterooms have had a one. Our butler told us they were not providing them anymore, due to "safety concerns". I found this very irritating, as our good Pedrini corkscrew had been confiscated from my carry-on upon embarkation. Following Celebrity's instructions, port security took it, because of the 1-inch foil cutter on it (never mind the 6-inch steak knives we would be given at dinner, that night). After several phone calls and a trip to guest relations, our corkscrew was finally returned to us.
Main Dining Room: Generally speaking, the food quality was hit-or-miss. Most dishes in the main dining room tended to be over-salted, even for cruiseline food. We could not get escargot anywhere (even in the specialty restaurants). The crab-stuffed mushrooms that replaced escargot on the menu were simply horrible. They are no longer served in the escargot dishes, so they came out watery and lukewarm -- with little or no evidence of crab in the stuffing. After our last two X cruises, it was a pleasant surprise that the chefs on Equinox actually knew how to prepare a steak which was ordered "rare". The beef quality in the MDR was something else, however. The prime rib was fatty and the steaks (even cooked rare) were so tough that we had trouble cutting them. When we sent dishes back, there was a great hue and cry by the staff (including the maitre'd), but things did not really improve much. Neither my husband nor I care much for desserts, but the varied sorbets on the MDR menu were always a great way to end a meal.
OceanView Cafe (buffet): We only had a few meals here, mostly in the Asian Food section. Their stir-fry for lunch was very good, although the station itself was set up rather awkwardly. There was no place to wait while your food was being prepared, without being in the way of people trying to reach the non-stir-fry offerings. One evening, after a long day in port, we opted for an early buffet dinner of sushi and miso soup -- both were simply delicious!
Specialty Restaurants: We dined in each of the specialty restaurants: Murano, Silk Harvest, and Tuscan Grille. The food and service in each was outstanding, but our hands-down favorite was Murano. Their table-side preparations were amazing! In Tuscan Grille, I think more people would order the Caesar Salad, if the menu explained that it is prepared table-side, with delicious freshly-made dressing. Silk Harvest was wonderful, but much more food that the four of us could eat -- we couldn't even think about dessert.
Entertainment: After our experience on Millenium last fall, it was a real relief not to have the constant thumping of techno music piped in all over the ship. What "canned" music they did have was appropriate to the various venues, and not too loud. The live music throughout the ship was quite good. The ship's "party band", Southside, was one of the best groups I've encountered on X. The late-night comedian was funny, without being too explicit (although it was definitely adults-only material). One thing that I didn't understand was why there was no live music at the gala brunch. We've seen that on other ships, and it adds a very nice touch.
I can't say enough great things about the Hot Glass Show, and the ship's resident artisans from the Corning Museum of Glass. We attended one show during daylight hours, but the most amazing shows were at night. On the last sea day, they held a charity auction of four of the pieces that were made on our cruise. It was held in the Centrum, and was very lively and well-attended, raising money for both breast cancer research and glass-blowing scholarships. We don't go to very many of the shows in the theater, but the Cirque-like production (Equinox, the Show) on the last formal night was quite good.
Service: I would have to characterize the overall service as good -- but there were glitches. For instance, having had past problems with tuxes rented through Cruiseline Formalwear, we had asked our butler if he could have my husband's tux delivered early -- so he could try it on and inspect it. But, the tux wasn't delivered until nearly noon the next day (first formal night), and there were indeed several problems that required alteration and repair. My husband (who was not happy) explained to the butler that this was the very scenario he had wanted to avoid. After that, things got a little better. On one of the last sea days, we let our butler know that our friends would be stopping by for a glass of wine on the balcony, and asked if he could bring something other than the usual afternoon tea canapes (which we really don't care for). We were very pleasantly surprised when he showed up with a whole tray of assorted hot and cold appetizers, including a cheese plate, and shrimp cocktail! Our room steward was outstanding. Our room was kept very clean, and we always had plenty of clean towels and ice. To my dismay, I quickly realized that the new Bulgari bath products provided in the suites were not to my taste. I found them to be over-perfumed and oily. After telling our room steward, they were immediately replaced by the lemon-grass products that we are used to finding in our cabins on X.
Disembarkation: Here again, there were long lines and delays. We were one of the first groups called, but still found ourselves in a very long customs line. To make things worse, there were not nearly enough porters for people who needed them, which added to the delays -- as well as causing confrontations between passengers. Celebrity's answer to the Customs/Immigration back-ups was to encourage as many passengers as possible to self-disembark. This did not work too well, as many people were still struggling to get off the ship with all of their luggage, when the first regular embarkation groups were called.
Overall Impressions: As long-time passengers on Royal Caribbean, we saw a steady decline in the quality of food and service on that line. That was part of the reason we have largely switched to Celebrity as our cruise-line of choice. However, we are starting to see some of the same changes occurring on X. There has been a notable shift from emphasizing service to focusing on sales: drink & restaurant packages, future cruises, shore excursions -- you name it, X is selling it. Oh, and yes the rumors are true: the dreaded art auctions have returned -- with a vengeance! The daily bulletin (Celebrity Today) used to prominently feature guest lecturers, and various events throughout the ship. Now, it's just one big commercial flyer for whatever they are selling that day. We had to search the fine print in the schedule to find the things we wanted to attend, such as the Gala Sea-Day Brunch.
The few Captain's Club events scheduled for the cruise are all printed in one flyer, stuffed into an envelope with the coupons. But daily, we found personalized "invitations" on our door to attend jewelry sales, art auctions, and other "events" that we had absolutely no interest in. By contrast, many people on our CruiseCritic roll-call reported that they never received an invitation to the Connections Party. Ours was only delivered late on the night before the event -- like it was an afterthought. On most cruises, we have found our Connections Party invitations waiting in our room when we boarded.
There are still many things that we love about Celebrity: the beautiful ships; a glass of champagne when you first step onboard; a cold towel and drink waiting for you after a long day in port; not being constantly bombarded with PA announcements; and, most importantly, not having to deal with second-hand smoke in the ship or on the verandahs. I truly hope that the management of Celebrity and its parent company RCCL will come to their collective senses, and work to restore the former standards of quality food and service. We really would like to be cruising on X for many years to come.