On April 4th I embarked on my first cruise on the Celebrity Equinox after having traveled with Holland America for the past 6 years. As expected, both companies have their own unique approaches to various facets of their operations.
I flew into Ft. Lauderdale a day early, staying overnight at the Doubletree Suites on Sunrise Blvd. A very nice hotel, my suite was excellent! The restaurant is a bit overpriced but there is a mall nearby with different food areas from which to choose. The staff at Doubletree were extremely pleasant and though the room wasn't ready for checking in, the clerk asked for my cell phone number and called me while I was having lunch to advise me that I could finish checking in.
Whereas Holland America has a greeter at the airport and provides transportation between the airport and hotel, Celebrity does not. I paid $25 for a cab to get to Doubletree. Holland America provides a "Welcome Letter" for those embarking and advises them as to when to expect to picked up at the hotel. Celebrity does not. The clerk at the desk simply said Celebrity transportation arrives between 12:15 and 1:00 p.m.
The transfer to the Equinox was pretty easy and the check in process took about 20 minutes. Upon entering the Equinox, I was offered a glass of champagne. A nice touch! My cabin was located on Level 8 and I found it to be very comfortable--nice-sized bathroom with shower stall, ample drawer space and a large closet. There is also storage above and under the bed. I splurged on a veranda cabin and wasn't disappointed at all. The flat-screen TV has some limited viewing: news channels, free (or paid) movies on demand and the usual cruise channels as well.
The ship is very clean and well-maintained and the crew does an excellent job of clearing up stray plates and glasses and the pool butlers do a good job of taking away deck chair towels which have been undisturbed for more than 30 minutes. There is an area of grass on an upper deck which is great for golf putting, bocce or croquet.
The Oceanview Buffet serves a variety of foods--some of which are repeated daily. The only disadvantage is that there is s shortage of table and chair space. On sea days the seating areas are very full and it can be difficult to find a table. The Silhouette Dining Room is attractive with plenty of seating. I took all my evening meals there. Our waitress and her assistant had arrived on the ship on embarkation day so the first meal was a little "hit or miss"--some selections arriving to the wrong people but by the second day, our servers had the process in hand and did a wonderful job for the remainder of the cruise. I didn't try any of the specialty restaurants. In general, however, I think Holland America might be tipping the scales in their favor. The portions are well-balanced with the size of the plates on HAL where Celebrity tends to put portions on much larger plates which can make small portions look smaller. Celebrity had some excellent beef cuts and the veal medallions I had one night were great!!
The Equinox has it's own stage band, singers, dancers, Cirque de Soleil performers as well as smaller ensembles. The stage band is top notch as are the singers. The dance company is well-rehearsed and performed with precision not often found on HAL ships. The Cirque performers did their own show one night which merited with long-lasting standing ovation they received. The entertainment is definitely several notches above HAL. Cruise director, Jason, was all over the ship, greeting people, encouraging them to come to various events etc. A 4-part lecture series which sounded compelling was the only real downer. The presenter, a college professor, had some great material to offer but the lectures weren't well organized and the final one on the DaVinci Code had no relation to the previous three. Normally I don't attend art auctions but the young man in charge of these auctions also presented a series of talks on various artists which I found much better organized, more entertaining and one came away from his presentations with the feeling they learned something new.
The captain and senior officers are visible throughout the ship and approachable, willing to meet passengers and chat with them. The crew members are very friendly and polite. Celebrity also has a little more expanded room service breakfast menu than Holland America and these meals were served on time every day including a phone call advising me that my breakfast was "on the way." Holland America doesn't provide this unique service.
The Equinox visited St. Thomas (Virgin Islands), St. Kitts (nice place), Barbados (definitely would go there again!), Dominica (don't waste your time there!!) and St. Maarten (interesting but do you really need to buy gold chains and diamonds in every port-of-call??).
Celebrity sets up a very nice reception area on the pier on port days. Tents to shade passengers from the tropical sun, a cold drink and cold towels and a small seating area were very welcome after hours of walking in the various ports of call.
Lastly--disembarkation. I had been reading various reports of long lines at Customs/Immigration in Ft. Lauderdale and was expecting the worst as I had an early flight and was sure I wouldn't make it. My group was released 15 minutes earlier than expected and the line for re-entering the U.S. while somewhat long, kept moving continuously. Within 30 minutes of leaving the ship, I'd collected my luggage, gone through Customs/Immigration and boarded the bus for the airport. No problem at all! It should be noted that the Equinox arrived back in Florida on a Monday rather than the weekend so this might have been the reason.
I enjoyed my first-time cruise with Celebrity and would certainly travel with them again. While I was very comfortable with Holland America, I got a slightly better deal with Celebrity for this cruise.