This was our 6th cruise with Celebrity, our first Trans-Atlantic. Next Trans-Atlantic, we will go the OTHER way, but, that was our issue, not Celebrity's! We often joked as we cruised east, moving the clock forward one hour, 6 separate times, losing an hour each time, that hey!, we should be getting a refund from Celebrity, because 6 hours, for the 4 of us in our family, comes out to a total of 24 hours LOST, that's one full day - haha! Anyway, yes, that was our inside joke. So, to fly to Europe, then cruise west back home, would have given us 24 hours EXTRA, (just kidding, but hey, depends on how you look at it!!) plus, it would have eliminated any jet lag issues here at home - it's always easier to deal with jet lag at the beginning of a vacation when everything is fun and exciting, but back home, waking up at 2am for a full week before your body clock adjusts, is definitely not fun.
We had sailed on Equinox in August of 2011 in the Med so it was great to be back onboard. She is a beautiful ship, a wonderful crew. The captain was the same captain that we sailed with on Summit this past October in the Caribbean. It was great to hear his familiar voice, and to see him often in the public areas, nearly every day. I suppose that a Trans Atlantic cruise is very simple for the captain - just set the auto pilot due east in this case, for 7 days and relax! But, seriously, it was great to see the captain so often, as well as many other of the senior officers. It is always nice to see the officers out and about with the passengers - makes us feel welcome and also that the crew is involved. I once saw the Hotel Director officer walking about the ship and her keen eye flew to a VERY minor issue with the flooring - she was on top of it, clearly concerned and taking ownership of even the most minor of irregularities.
We sailed in Aqua Class, 2 cabins - one for my husband and I and one for 2 of our adult children - our daughter is mobility challenged so they were in a handicapped accessible room. The handicapped facilities on the Solstice Class ships are TOP NOTCH. We do not cease to be impressed every cruise we take with Celebrity on Solstice Class ships. The accessible cabins are much larger than the regular cabins to allow for the equipment that the person with the disability must use. The veranda door is ramped on both sides and the veranda itself is considerably longer than the regular verandas, to allow for walkers and/or wheelchairs. The bathrooms are larger and also ramped, but ramped in the floor so you don't see it. The shower, which is large and has a built in chair which flips out of the way for a non physically disabled co-passenger, drains into a slanted floor drain, and in case the water swooshes around the bathroom floor, there is a several foot long drain in the floor before the bathroom door, so there is zero chance of flooding. There is a telephone in the bathroom next to the toilet as well as an emergency pull cord to notify medical of any problem. The door to your handicapped accessible cabin opens automatically, so when you swipe your Seapass Card into your lock, the door automatically opens, and when you have to leave your cabin, you just press the automatic button - so there are no heavy doors to open. Throughout all Solstice Class ships, every single public bathroom door has an automatic open button, and the handicapped accessible stalls also have an auto open door, with a very simple lock inside. A fantastic system! Plus, all public areas have auto open doors onto the decks, with no step up or step down - the ship is perfectly designed for people with mobility issues. Not so the Millennium Class ships, but those are much older. Clearly, the services of a disability consultant were engaged when the Solstice Class ships were designed.
The crew is VERY attuned to the needs of people with physical disabilities. In Blu, not once did we ever need to move our daughter's walker - we would be escorted to our table, and the maitre d or the server would take her walker away for us; they would get angry, in a cute endearing way, if we tried to do it ourselves! Also, upon exiting the vessel at the ports of call, members of the housekeeping staff are stationed at the gangways to help people with physical needs disembark. I will say however that on this cruise, we did have a mishap - let me preface with saying that my daughter is ok! - we were leaving the ship for a ship sponsored shore excursion in Tenerife to Loro Park. As we pinged out through security, a member of the housekeeping staff approached and asked if he could help us. Now, right there, that was a difference, because usually, the housekeeping staff member insists on helping - plus, this guy was, hmmmm, how shall I say - not the image of strapping youthful vigor that the majority of the staff is that are posted at the gangways to help with wheelchairs, in my experience. So through my mind, a lightning bolt of caution flashed, but I thought, nah, what could go wrong, plus, the gangway was not very steep as we were disembarking on a lower deck. Well, this poor guy did not realize how little strength he actually possessed because after grasping the wheelchair handles, he almost immediately lost control, letting go of the chair, sending my daughter careening into the gangway screen, the wheelchair hitting the support bar and though she was fine and the chair did not upend, key parts of the chair actually bent rendering it unusable. This, however, that it was not usable, was not apparent to us until we reached Loro Park, the destination of our shore excursion - it took us nearly an hour there before we were settled in with a power scooter rental(EURO)(EURO)..details of that you can read on my shore excursion review elsewhere on Cruise Critic. In the end, all's well that ends well, but this was a strange blip in our otherwise stellar experience with the unparalleled service surrounding disabilities onboard Celebrity ships.
As I mentioned, the four of us had two Aqua Class cabins, but not next to each other, so we ended up with two different cabin steward teams. It was very interesting to see if there were any differences in service delivery, but other than variations in towel art, both cabin teams were excellent. We always had amply stocked soaps/shampoos, lots of towels, fresh flowers, water bottles - all was up to snuff and then some!
As I mentioned, we sailed Aqua Class, our preferred way to sail, not that we have anything against the Main Dining Room, but we have found that the food in Blu tends to be way above average plus we love the experience of having a specialty dining room that is INCLUDED. Also, every single table in Blu has a great view of the sea, the shore - whatever happens to be outside the window at the time; plus, we usually time our meals so that we always get a table directly at the window. But, like I said, every table has a view. Also, the flexibility of dining in Blu is HUGE - there is no first or second seating, no reservation time, no need to plan like with the select dining plan, no additional charge for a specialty restaurant - Blu IS a specialty restaurant, one which exists exclusively for the use of Aqua Class passengers. You go anytime you want to go, it's as easy as that! The food is excellent (though not without it's flaws, like a need to please "Middle America" by overcooking the fish - we learned to always order it med-rare otherwise it will be overcooked) and funny thing - I have met quite a few people that say, "Oh, you're Aqua Class, that means you eat in that 'health food' restaurant, where all of the food is 'healthy and low fat'." First, as if that is a bad thing??? But, truly, that isn't even true! Food in Blu is superior, and there are many healthful offerings - but there are plenty of full fat offerings as well! How low fat, exactly, does steak tip and gorgonzola risotto - a main dish offering in Blu - sound? I think there are quite a few people that don't have the right idea about Blu.
And, while I'm at it, what about Concierge Class - WHY anyone would sail that, other than to have a different colored SeaPass card, is beyond me! Maybe people of a "certain generation" attach a connotation to the word "concierge" that smacks of elitism whereas "aqua class" sounds somehow, well, to reuse the word "healthy" but also very "spa-like" - and people of this "certain generation" are afraid and unfamiliar with such? But beyond which, that's not even the point! The fact is that Aqua Class gets everything Concierge gets - canapes in your cabin every day, a bottle of bubbly upon check in, flowers and fruit in your room daily, free bottled water daily - but you get MORE with Aqua Class because you get your own personal specialty restaurant! Plus, you get to use the Persian Garden in the spa at no charge, other things like that, though that to us is of little consequence. The main perk, and it's a huge one, is Blu. Well, let the misunderstanding about Aqua Class persist because that means that for us when we book there will still be Aqua Class cabins available!
In the Captain's Club, the Celebrity version of 'frequent flyer miles', we are ranked elite, currently the highest tier, which gives us certain perks - yes, perks for us, and about 700 other passengers on board! On this cruise, each elite ranked passenger received 3 drink coupons per night, to be used between 5-7 pm in most cocktail lounges on board, excluding the Molecular and Martini Bars. We personally absolutely prefer the coupons over the former elite cocktail party usually held in Michael's Club, as with the coupons, you can imbibe where you want - the flexibility is definitely fantastic! We also received 90 minutes of free internet for the cruise, which is fantastic - we logged on every day and downloaded our local newspaper, the "Boston Globe", onto our iPad. This was especially great for us as we were sailing during the time of the tragic Boston Marathon terrorism attack, so it was helpful for us to stay connected by reading our local paper every day. You just always have to remember to log off the Celebrity server - not just turn off your device but to actually log off the Celebrity server.
We missed my personal favorite onboard event, which is the wine and cheese on the lawn, which was held this cruise at the sail away from Tenerife. We had to miss it because we got back on board very last minute, and there just wasn't enough time to make it to the wine and cheese lawn event. All aboard was 5:45pm, but the wine and cheese event began at 5pm - usually, the wine and cheese event is held a bit later in the evening, and in a port when all aboard is a bit sooner. However, with the weather being cool, etc, I know there were not many options - sad for me, as this is my favorite event! We did this on other cruises as we sailed away from Istanbul and once sailing away from Santorini, to name two - there is nothing like a sail away from an exotic port, laying on a blanket on the grass (actual REAL GRASS on a SHIP, so cool!!) with pillows, drinking wine, eating cheese and listening to the onboard guitarist serenading the gathered relaxing passengers!
Entertainment on board was diverse and of the high quality that you expect from Celebrity. I do however continue to wonder why the on board acapella group never performs more than 15 min at a time, and usually no more than twice a day, sometimes but rarely, three! I've read speculations on this website as to the reason, but I'm sure that it's all about the contract, as no other reason makes sense!? The onboard Equinox theater entertainers are super talented, singing and dancing through three major and I mean MAJOR, production shows - gorgeous costumes, Broadway worthy scenery, a full onboard live orchestra; one of the shows is straight out of Cirque du Soleil, a Celebrity signature, though the show on each ship is different, and is changed periodically to varying degrees. On this cruise there was a contestant from Top Chef Season 5 giving cooking lessons. There were several comedians; a fantastic singer from London's West End who starred as Jean Valjean for two years; a Celtic opera singer; a pianist and on and on. The Activities Staff was, I thought, particularly engaging - we had a great time participating in the flashmob class, where we were taught a version of the Gangnam Style dance by Faye of the Activities Staff - we practiced every sea day and then performed the flashmob once by the pool one afternoon and again in the Grand Foyer the following evening. Of course there were many trivia engagements, though for us perhaps the most fun was "Gender Wars", a progressive game which ran over the course of several nights in the Entertainment Court, when it was all out fist to cuffs, good natured of course, men vs women. Another favorite was "Liar's Club" which is a game show variant of the board game Balderdash and also the Celebrity classic "Newly-Wed - Not so Newly-Wed Game". Then of course there is the gym, ballroom dancing classes and zumba - the onboard zumba instructor was one of the Activities Staff people, Nick, who is a certified zumba instructor - he was terrific, actually getting us all to move - he wasn't teaching what I call "remedial zumba", he actually got everyone moving. And I am only scratching the surface - there was so much to do that after the first 4 sea days, we were actually exhausted!!, and we had to stop doing some of the activities! I didn't have time to open my book until I made a conscious decision to relax and disengage from some of the activities - that's a pretty fantastic thing to say - Celebrity does a fabulous job with what they call "Celebrity Life Activities", they really do! We have always found that the more involved you are, the more people you meet, the more fun you have!
We were very excited about the mix of sea days and ports of call on this cruise. We were particularly anticipating the passage through the Strait of Gibraltar - how thrilling to navigate the waters dividing the Med from the Atlantic, to think about the days of Pangea when "The Rock" of Gibraltar split apart, etc! Shore excursion offerings were very good - we personally booked a mix of ship excursions and private excursions. In Nassau, we booked Dolphin Encounters on Blue Lagoon Island for a dolphin swim, through the ship. On the islands of Tenerife and Lanzarote in the Canary Islands we booked ship excursions - to Loro Park and the Camel Ride and Fire Mountain, respectively. In Lisbon and Gibraltar, we booked private tours for just the four of us, which we enjoyed very much, booking with Different Portugal Tours and Gib Tours, respectively - both outstanding and professional private tour companies, which we highly recommend.
The passage through the Strait of Gibraltar was well timed by the captain, commencing at approximately 9:30am. We stationed ourselves on Deck 15 where we could easily jump from side to side, taking countless photos of the African side, the European side, back and forth. It was a beautiful morning, sunny, albeit windy and cool. Touring Gibraltar was very special, considering it's history and it's strategic geographic location with it's varied and turbulent political background. With the WWII tunnels and the Great Siege tunnels, there are more roads IN "The Rock" than outside of it!
This itinerary had a sea day as the final day - always a great thing when that happens as then you don't have to pack in the evening, etc, rather, you can enjoy your day, pack leisurely, enjoy the final evening onboard. Disembarkation, like nearly everything on the cruise, went very smoothly. We look forward to our next cruise with Celebrity! (only a few months away!)