Our Mediterranean cruise departed Barcelona on 1 November and visited ports in Malta, Greece (including the islands of Mykonos and Santorini), Turkey and Italy. We travelled as a family with two side by side balcony cabins which were well situated midships on Deck 9. Having travelled on the Solstice, we found the Equinox very similar and thus easy to find our way around. As we've come to expect with Celebrity, the cabins and public areas are very well maintained, immaculately presented and clean.
This was our first Mediterranean cruise we really enjoyed seeing new places and ports of call - Malta, Santorini, Mykonos and Ephesus were definite standouts. We usually prefer to do our own tours however on this occasion we booked on board, mainly to make sure that we saw as much as we possibly could and still get back to the ship on time.
For the most part we were satisfied with the shore excursions, however we were disappointed with trips to Pompeii and in particular Rome, where we had paid a premium to do an exclusive tour, hoping to see as much as possible given the time constraints. The downfall with both of these tours seemed to be the guides. Pompeii was extremely crowded with multiple groups touring at the same time and for some reason our guide refused to hold her "lollypop" sign any higher than her shoulder which meant that we tended to focus more on trying to locate her than look at the ruins. The electronic communication devices used by both guides were either not of good quality or perhaps it was due to the large number of groups but the end result was that you could not hear the guide if you were more than a metre or so away which was extremely frustrating.
Our guide in Rome spent an extraordinary amount of time outside the Vatican Museums telling us what we would see inside, when a shorter commentary and longer inside visit would have been preferable as by the time we actually got inside, there was very little time to actually look at the displays. Feedback to this effect provided by other guests fell on deaf ears leaving us to form the opinion that it was HER tour, not ours.
We were however happy that we had chosen a cruise at the end of the season, which meant although we encountered multiple ships and large crowds in some ports, in others Equinox was the only ship which made sightseeing more comfortable. Equinox was one of four ships at Santorini, which meant long lines and waits to take the cable car or donkeys to the top and back, however it is such a spectacular place we were determined to enjoy every minute of it.
One of us requires a gluten free diet, and as usual Celebrity was made aware of this at the time of booking. We noted that Celebrity had made some positive changes to the way they cater to passengers requiring special diets as now menu choices in the main restaurant are identified as being gluten free, low fat/salt/sugar etc. This makes choosing easier, and also negates the need to pre-order the night before, which we've had to do in the past. This appears to be a relatively recent change as we did not encounter it on our last cruise in March 2013.
Having said that, Celebrity still needs to improve the quality and choice of their offerings for passengers requiring gluten free meals. Dessert menus do not mention whether items are suitable for special diets so on the first night I inquired about the choices available. I was told "creme brulee, or caramel creme brulee" (see our earlier Solstice review, March 2013)!!! Determined not to be content with the same offerings for the 12 nights of the cruise, we politely sought out the restaurant manager at the conclusion of our meal. He invited the assistant maitre d into the conversation and suffice to say that although we quietly, calmly and politely stated our concerns we felt that the response was less than we would expect of Celebrity.
The next day we sought a meeting with the Food and Beverage manager, who also included the Head Chef (a fellow Australian) in the meeting. Our concerns were noted and we felt we were treated with respect and courtesy. From that point things improved greatly and we felt that they made a real effort to ensure we were well catered for in terms of gluten free offerings.
We sail with Celebrity again in January 2014 (Solstice) and it would be fabulous to find out that Celebrity has finally taken on board feedback about the quality and range of choice of their gluten free choices. Most people (including us) do not want to have to make a fuss however as we pointed out, if the quality of an item means that a non gluten free person would not eat it, why assume that someone who requires a gluten free diet would be happy with it?
Please Celebrity, do something about this... the range of GF food available is amazing now, with quality items readily available in most places. Case in point, without any prior notice our hotel in Barcelona was able to provide warm GF baguettes of excellent quality at breakfast each morning. While Celebrity is our cruise line of choice, they will only remain so if they address this issue.