Just returned from a 12 day European cruise on the Celebrity Equinox out of Barcelona- which in general was a wonderful trip. Having sailed on the Equinox 2 years ago on a 10 day Italy/Greek Island Cruise, I think we have a good frame of reference about the ship, and some changes.
Our background: We were a group of 6 in our late Forties to early Sixties… several are in the Food business, so this was a particular area of interest for us. We have cruised together in the past on both Celebrity, last year we did a Silversea cruise, as well as sailing on Princess, Cunard and several other cruise lines.
Overall Impression: The ship is in good shape, a tiny bit of wear and tear, but pretty much what I expected overall. There were some slight changes as I think the makeup of the staff and some of the promotions they are doing has made a bit of a difference in service.
Embarkation: Smooth, we checked in late, as we spent the day in Barcelona at a Food and Wine show so we got on late, but it was easy and there was no issue. The munster drill was much more abbreviated then I remember (last year I think Silversea almost put us in the boats!), which was convenient but I kind of liked the level of detail we had in the past on this. They apparently are really cracking down on travel irons, one in our group had one and didn’t get her bag until late at night, so probably not a good idea to bring one. We did bring on wine without any issue, and at other ports (such as our stop in Tuscany) we brought on more wine which we thought would be confiscated until the end of the trip, but they saw it and let it go right through. Don’t know if the policy has changed, but they were quite easy going about it.
Cabin: In both cases (both last cruise and this one) we were booked in an Aquaclass cabin. This time a bit farther forward, but similar cabins overall (an A2 standard cabin). It seemed to me this time that the room stewards had more cabins to manage, and as a result the service wasn’t quite what it was last time. Still good, but they were a bit more stressed. Condition was good, good storage for a 12 day cruise, and nice balcony, love the fact that the balconies connect (we connected our cabin with friends cabins) which made for a nice “common space” for our little group. As a side note we were on the right hand side of the ship which was by far the best side for sightseeing on this cruise.
On a Positive note we found the TV system to be much improved from our last cruise. More free movies that allowed you to pause and recommence watching them within 48 hours which was really nice. Also they had Fox News, ESPN and MSBC as well as they were broadcasting some Football games and other events on the other channels which was good. It was easy to operate and we found it very useful.
Aquaclass Perks: Blu (talked about below) is obviously the biggest plus. In addition though the Persian Garden with the heated loungers, steam room area became a favorite in our group. It is a really nice area. We also used the relaxation room much more then before, it is a wonderful venue with a great view of the front of the ship as we sailed in and out of Kotor and Venice… I asked to get black iced tea instead of the passion fruit, which they accommodated, but after I got spoiled from the tea downstairs I didn’t use this as much.
Elite Coupons and Perks: The coupons have definitely improved, and as my husband and I are both Elite we got some great laundry and dry cleaning coupons plus $50 off any internet package, which was greatly appreciated. Had we realized how good the laundry coupons were, we would have either packed much less and as a result I went home with my clothes clean!
There is now the daily happy hour for Elite guests which we didn’t go to as we had a drink package, but if we did not have it we would have taken advantage of this. Finally the Elite Tea was actually not up to the standard of previous years. Given we’ve traveled both as Elite and in suites in the past, this really seemed like a tea from the Buffet which they transported to Blu. They also didn’t have enough service staff for this and the whole service I remembered from the past was non-existent.
Internet: Was improved… still not inexpensive, but much faster and consistently available everywhere in the ship. No problem in our cabins or anywhere else as they seem to have it running much better then before. The folks at Celebrity online set it up on my Ipad, which I would highly recommend doing if you have one, as I could go log online and update my email in 1 to 2 minutes, and go then write emails offline. I did have 2 instances when it didn’t log off didn’t work properly, and it wasted about $30 worth of minutes. I went down to the Celebrity online, showed them what happened and they gave me $30 in credit back very cheerfully which was appreciated.
Blu: As this was our primary dining room, we had some mixed experiences in Blu although in general we really like the intimacy of the venue and the food was in general quite good. We had a group of 6, which meant coordinating this for dinner. They apparently only have a set number of 6 tops so we told them when we’d be dining and they were helpful, although a few nights we had to wait up to 30 minutes for a table. In general the food was quite good, although the service was a bit slow some of the nights and it did feel that the wait staff was a little overwhelmed. We had to wait a bit for the wine (one night we didn’t get served until well into our first course), and when my husband brought this to their attention, the wine steward bent over backwards to make sure he was there quickly, as we told him we liked to have wine at the start of our meal. He quickly became one of our favorite people in Blu, as he reacted very favorably to the feedback and got us bottles of wine we liked at the Tuscan Grill etc. The breakfasts at Blu really are worth going to, and the Muslix bar where they custom make it for you table side is quite nice.
Specialty Restaurants: We ate at all 3 specialty restaurants. Silk Harvest really did a wonderful job and we really enjoyed our night there. Great Service, really good food and a very good experience. Moreno was good, but not great. The room is lovely, but we had a few things prepared table side which were really just finished not prepared, and I actually preferred the food in Blu. Also we had a 8:30 reservation and did not finish until 11:30, the cheese and dessert course took over an hour which I thought was pretty slow (although the crepe I had with the strawberries and ice cream, was the highlight of the meal and truly was prepared table side). Finally, the Tuscan Grill was some of the best food we had onboard the ship… I had the Ravioli with with brisket and the Veal Chop were outstanding.
Aqua Spa Café: This has long been a favorite of ours, and I am delighted to say I think it’s gotten better! It seems to be open longer hours, there are more made to order items for breakfast (Frittatas, Special Oatmeal) that are worth the 5 minute wait, and lots of good muffins and juices. For lunch it is still really good, with some great made to order options and it was a again a favorite. We also found the service there to be excellent, and it was busy but not crowded- I think they have more tables then before which was appreciated.
Café Bistro on 5: I have to take a moment to just say what a pleasant place this is and how a number of their upgrades to this area were appreciated by our group. The drink package covered coffees, and teas. The Forte Tea they sell is some of the best on the market, and for Iced Tea drinkers they have a really neat pot where they custom make your iced tea for you in it’s own pot with the Forte tea (gives you a few glasses) which was really great. This was all brand new and we loved it. The coffees and Lattes we got were all very good, and the service was friendly- it was a very nice experience and extremely well run…. The cakes were good, but they need a new cookie recipe!
Buffet: We didn’t eat here a lot, but there were a few very pleasant surprises. First of all, they seem to understand that some of us use the buffet for appetizers either up top or to bring back to your cabin, and there was loads of Sushi (available more of the day) and lots of cheese, crackers, breads and olives to make these plates out of. The Bruschetta bar is a nice touch (they make Bruschetta to order)- and there seemed to be more healthier options. Also the Tea and coffee on the ship overall has improved… they have many types available (English Breakfast etc), and the coffee is much better then in the past. I think they also have larger mugs which is a nice touch. Breakfast was OK… made to order omelets and the made to order eggs benedict were quite good, but we usually ate at Aquaspa Café or Blu for breakfast.
Special “Excite the Senses” Events: Our group attended 2 of these events. The first was a Sushi making class ($25 per person) which was really fun, and we enjoyed making the Sushi and the Ceviche, as well as having lots of Sushi afterwards. Several in our group did the Tea class ($35 per person) where they learned to make Scones and lots of info about Tea, as well as having a high tea… they enjoyed this, and said the tea was great but thought $35 was a bit high for this especially compared to the other class (also on the brochure it said it cost $25 which didn’t add to the feeling of value).
Room Service: Room service has changed…. There are quite a few items that used to be free that are now charged. The menu is limited… but for basic items or snacks it was fine, and there was no shortage of food on this trip so it really didn’t effect us that much. We did order it a few breakfasts, and it was absolutely fine.
Guest Services: Who talks about them? I will. Almost every interface I had with them was helpful, professional and positive. I thought this was the best guest service team I’ve encountered on a cruise ship. We needed to have a deviation as we got off the ship for a night in Tuscany, and they were extremely helpful and appreciative of us following their protocol for this. They were straight forward and I really was impressed with this aspect of our cruise.
Drink Packages: I think this needs to be talked about because there appears to be a bit of an issue with this on our cruise. It is clear that the bar staff does not get the same tips for the drink packages as they otherwise would, and as a result they aren’t really all that thrilled when they see you have one of these packages on your card. Our promotion included a drink package, but we upgraded ours to the premium package (an additional $10 per day for each of us) which means $12 towards wine or cocktails. As we ordered some good wines (frequently more the the $12 per glass- you pay the difference in cost)- but the wine selection for by the glass really could have been more robust and was limited. For other drinks it was absolutely fine. When the bar staff saw our card saying this, they weren’t really that pleased, and I think something really needs to be done about this. There were a few bartenders who were great about it, but in general it did effect our service and our experience. I am sure with these drink packages included in various promotions, this will probably only get worse unless it is addressed.
Nightlife/shows: Probably the best shows we’ve seen on a Celebrity ship. The dancers were good, all the performers we saw we enjoyed and the Cirque to Soleil style show was outstanding… even the late night Comedienne was really funny. There was more night life then I remembered on the past… the Martini Bar was almost always busy with dancing, Quaser probably needs a remake (it doesn’t seem to bring people in)… the molecular bar is cool and some of the drinks were good (but strong!)… We love Cellar masters because we love wine, but they should let the wine in the machines be included in the drink package- love the venue! The Sky bar had some busy nights too. In general it was a pretty active group and something for most everyone, definitely a more active group then other Celebrity cruises we’ve been on.
Disembarkment: We had to get off early and were down waiting as the ship pulled into Port... we did get off 15 minutes before expected time, and it all went extremely smoothly.
All in all a great ship... some small differences, but in many ways it has matured nicely!