Warning: this is a loooooong review. I wrote this while still traveling, so I remembered a lot of details.You might wanna get some coffee before you start reading. :-)
Having been on one other cruise before, in the Mediterranean on the Norwegian Jade, we, a family of four with two boys aged 6 and 2, were excited to experience a Celebrity Cruise Ship now. The cruise was going to take us on an 11 night long Caribbean trip, with the Celebrity Equinox. We had booked it on short notice, only 16 days before the embarkation.
The night before embarkation, we stayed at the Hampton Inn Airport North in Fort Lauderdale and were very happy with it. They offer free shuttles to and from the airport as well as the cruise port.
We were notified beforehand not to arrive at the cruise pier before 12:30 pm because the ship had come in from abroad and had to go through a ship inspection as well as crew and guest immigration. The time window for checking in was 12:30 till 3:30 pm, with departure scheduled for 4:30 pm. We arrived at the cruise port at around 1:30, expecting long lines because of the three hour time window. Quite the opposite happened. I had thought last year in Venice that the embarkation process was smooth, but this time it could not have been any faster. We were dropped off by the shuttle, left the luggage, with our baggage tags already on, right there at the sidewalk, walked into the building, through Security, to Check-In and then onto the ship, all without having to wait at any time. Wow! I was amazed.
First impression of the ship: beautiful. High class. No fancy colors and wall paintings, just very subtle coloring. Very elegant, with glass elevators. Christmas decoration everywhere in just a few colors, mainly red, nothing annoying but nice to look at. Perfectly clean.
It was recommended to go the buffet because the staterooms were not ready yet – which we had expected. On the Norwegian, the buffet had been busy like crazy, but surprisingly, although full, we found a table outside on the back deck almost immediately. The décor of the restaurant was elegant, too, with comfy orange single couch seats and couch tables as well as wooden tables and teak deck chairs.
The variety of foods was great, and it tasted very, very good – another difference to the Norwegian, where I had found the majority of the dishes being more the quality of a Chuck-A-Rama. I have to admit that I am very picky, being from Germany and growing up with amazing food, so saying that they serve very good food is truly a compliment.
I found one minus, though. On the Jade, they had machines with normal coffee and espresso machines where the coffee beans were ground at your push of the button, with three different sizes to choose from, so you had a more espresso like coffee. Here, they had the same WMF machines, but only with normal, “premade” coffee. It was quite strong, which we liked, but it is just not the same as freshly ground coffee beans at an individual strength. They did have espresso drinks you could order, for $4.50 plus the usual tip on top of it.
At 3:30 we had to emergency drill which went smoothly, and after that we went to our stateroom. We had a balcony room on Deck 7, mid-ship, which accommodated four people. It was very, very nice. Good sized, with appropriate storage space, a beautiful, big bathroom and a huge balcony (two and a half times the size of the one we had on the Jade, but actually we just got very lucky with the location of the cabin. Most of the balconies were normal sized.). The décor and the furnishings, again, were modern with nicely chosen colors. The balcony had two lounge chairs and one chair (we got another one later that afternoon). Shortly afterwards, our stateroom attendant (all employees are called “attendants”, like snack attendant and bar attendant) Antonio introduced himself, explaining the room and the service to us. After a short phone call to the mini bar attendant by him, we were allowed to take the items out of the mini bar and stored them in plastic bags under the bed. The room had a flat screen TV, an umbrella in the closet, a hairdryer, pool towels, robes, a beach bag, and in the bathroom were soap, shampoo, lotion, a shower cap, cotton balls and Q-Tips. Out of environmental reasons, I liked it better on the Norwegian ship that they had shower gel and shampoo in dispensers in the shower, but my guess is that the small bottles here simply make a nice decoration in the bathroom. Everything was clean spotlessly. Throughout the cruise Antonio did a great job cleaning up our room twice a day and providing us with plenty of chocolates – a big Thank You from us!!
After unpacking, we brought our six year old to the “Fun Factory”. Unfortunately, the age minimum in the Celebrity kids club is three years old, and children have to be potty trained, so we knew in advance that we still would have our two year old with us at all times. Kids with swim diapers are not allowed in the pool either, by the way.
It was about 8:00 pm when we went to the Oceanview Café, the buffet, again expecting huge crowds competing for tables like on the Jade. The place was nearly empty! There were a few tables here and there occupied inside, and outside on the back deck, in the beautiful warm night breeze, we were totally by ourselves. It was awesome! We had a wonderful time, enjoying the night, and our son could play in his seat with his truck without us worrying about him being to noisy. The staff was extremely nice. Several waitresses came to our table chatting, and the bar attendant, Natalia from Columbia, was such a sweetheart. After talking for a while, she got our son out of his high chair and started playing with him, it was unbelievable. He loved every minute of it, and we were just amazed how friendly everybody was. The food, again, was very tasty, and they had a lot of healthy choices.
Our night was good, the room was very quiet, the mattress not too hard and not too soft.
The next morning, we went to the buffet around 9:15. We had asked the evening before when it it usually the most full, and the waitress had told us that it picks up around 8:30 on sea days. So we were right at the time where I thought it would be very crowded. And again, I am repeating myself, we found a table immediately. It was busy, but there were still tables available. The variety of food was fantastic, everything you could wish for. English, American and Asian breakfast, omelettes made to order, breads, cold cuts, salads, mueslis, wonderful pastries etc etc.
We had booked a tour with a local tour company at the first port of call, Grand Cayman. Wanting to know when and where to get the tender tickets in the morning to be on shore early enough to make the tour we went to Guest Relations and asked the young lady at the desk. She took off and came back with Priority Tickets, saying, with those we could go on any tender boat, which would be easier having the little one with us (pointing to our son in the stroller). Her name was Michela, and we thanked her many times for this nice gesture. So far we had only experienced great service by the employees, we were really impressed.
That first night at sea was formal night which we did not attend due to our two year old son, but it was nice seeing all the dressed up, beautiful people walking around on board. In fact, we never ate in the Main Dining Room the whole cruise (we had chosen the Select Dining option anyway) because we just did not like the fact to have to watch our toddler every minute that he is not too loud or annoying to anybody. Same applies to the live activities or shows - we did not attend any of those for the same reason – which is fine with us since we liked relaxing on our balcony or in the Café or just walking around the ship.
Disembarking the next day off the ship with the tender boats went smoothly.
We had booked a Three Stop-Stingray City Tour with Captain Marvin’s (captainmarvins.com). I cannot recommend this company highly enough. The tour included two snorkeling stops and Stingray City, where we got in the water surrounded by stingrays. The guides brought theses magnificent creatures up to us, took pictures, they let us kiss and hold them as well as having the stingrays “massage” us. It was fun and truly unforgettable. The three guides were extremely attentive and were even helping some women who did not feel safe in the water by pulling them on floatation devices etc. Don’t miss out on this.
Georgetown itself is just one big shopping area with lots of Jewelers and Souvenir Shops. We ate at Casanova, an Italian Restaurant recommend by a local, right nearby the port and at the waterfront, and the food was very, very good, better than any “Italian” food I have had since being in the United States.
The next day was a sea day again. At quarter to nine in the morning, the buffet was busy, but we found many empty tables outside (and saw a lot unoccupied ones inside as well).
In general, when we ate, waiters came to us all the time to ask if we needed something or to chat. The staff on this ship is absolutely fantastic, nobody is rude or grumpy, and they are very helpful, attentive and accommodating. They remember your children’s names and play with them, give them high fives etc.
The next day we arrived in Cartagena, Colombia. It was hot (over 90 degrees) and very humid (when we left later at 4 pm a thunderstorm was building up). When we stepped out of the Aviary - where guests are walking through on the way out of port – there were plenty of taxis and guides trying to sell their tours. We wanted to experience the city on our own. Going in a van with several other guests, each of us paid $ 5 per person. We arrived at the Old City and got a map at their information kiosk which is right outside the old wall where the clock tower is located. They have a suggested route in red on the city map and so we worked our way through the very busy historic district. The buildings are really beautiful, do not forget your camera! The traffic in most streets is awful, though, and challenging with a stroller. We would have enjoyed the area so much better had we not had this heat to deal with. Our six year old was getting really tired and complained every other minute, and although we had water with us, he was miserable. On the busy streets and plazas you are being harassed by street vendors, sometimes they even followed us to try to get us to buy their ice cream etc. Most of local stores did not take US dollars, and the vendors take that to their advantage and demand a lot of money for their products.
We went to the fort last, which was a mistake, since it is totally exposed to the sun, and it was about 1:30 at that time. The walk there was about 20 minutes from the information kiosk. My husband got a ticket and checked it out. He came back quickly and said, there is not much to learn. From there we got a taxi to the cruise port for ten dollars. Had it not been for the heat and the constant harassment of the vendors, it had been a more pleasant experience. Maybe try to go as soon as you dock, and be back on the ship by mid day, that way you can avoid the brutal sun. Maybe also consider taking a tour with one of the tour guides who wait outside the Aviary and offer their services. That way you won't miss out on the history etc and hopefully they drive you around in an air-conditioned vehicle.
The following day we arrived in Colon, Panama. We had booked a tour with Almiza Tours (myfriendmario.com) to take us to the Rainforest, the San Lorenzo Fort as well as the Canal. We were in a Minibus with about 28 people including three children. Our first stop was the Gatun Locks, where we got really lucky because at that moment a big container ship was in the process of going through the gates. Consider the Panama Canal to be a big, artificial lake with an elevator on each side – very interesting. From the Canal we went to the rainforest, stopping at the spillway in between. We took a short walk through the forest where our guide, Alex (Alexis) explained everything very well to us. On the way to the Fort, rain began to pour down. We waited at the Fort, hoping for a break, but it simply did not stop in intensity, so we finally turned around and were driven back to the ship. The tour was about 5.5 hours long. We were provided with water, beer, cokes and fresh fruit. Other guests afterwards said they had gotten surprised by the rain – they actually got soaked down to the underwear. Please bring some raingear because it rains almost every day here (we did, but did not need it in the bus obviously).
The next port of call was Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. We had booked a private tour with Your Lucky Tour (yourluckytour.com). Mario, our driver, was very knowledgeable and friendly. He drove us around for many hours. The tour included the Tortugero Canal, fruit stands and a banana plantation, where he gave us the explanation since it was a Sunday and nobody was working. We had researched before the trip that they don’t have Malaria and Yellow Fever in the region, but what we learned AFTER our ride on the canal was that some of the mosquitos actually carry Dengue Fever, which is a terrible disease! So please bring your bug spray.
After a relaxing sea day we arrived in Belize where we were tendering. We had booked our only shore excursion for this spot because, while planning our trip, we had trouble finding companies online who would accommodate cruise ship passengers. Most snorkeling and diving tour guides are located too far away from the cruise port, and we also got the response from one company that most local guides do not support cruise ships since they do not help but actually harm the community. We had booked “Snorkeling wonders of the Barrier Reef”. Although it says they require a minimum age limit of eight years, our shore excursion desk attendant Elena asked them via email if they could accommodate a six and a two year old and they answered quickly that it would be no problem. The company picked our group up from the ship and drove us to a small (you cannot get lost there) private island. Unfortunately, it was very overcast and windy, but nevertheless the snorkeling was fun and the guides did everything to be as helpful as possible to everybody. The offered three groups for the levels: Beginners, Intermediates and Advanced Snorkelers. Each group had several guides with them in the water as well as a kayak on which they brought people to shore with in case they wanted to stop. On the island they offered drinks and snacks for sale. I was amazed that they actually had restrooms with normal toilets and running water – I have no idea how they managed to build that, really nice. They also had changing rooms, beach mats to lie on as well as lounge chairs. Had the weather been better it would have been a blast, but that is nobody’s fault obviously and we can highly recommend this tour. We would have liked to see a little bit of Belize, but by the time we were back on the ship it would not have made sense to take a tender to shore since it takes about 25 minutes one way to get to the mainland.
The next day we docked at the Mexican Island of Cozumel. Having done research for things to do, we decided to take a rental car, go to Chankanaab Park and drive around the island. Chankanaab is just three miles south of the southern Cruise Terminal (there are two Cruise Terminals, about two miles from each other). Supposedly you should get a taxi for $15, but try to get it for $10, you might get lucky.
You pay an admission (about 21 dollars for adults and about 14 for children over 3). You’ll find an area with a very nice, long stretch of beach, lounge chairs, umbrellas, restrooms & showers, changing rooms, Swimming Pools, Bars, Restaurants, a Mayan “Park” with replicas, a Botanical Garden, a Lagoon, and a Crocodile Exhibition. They also have a Sea Lion Show. For a charge, you can get a massage, swim with Dolphins or do Zip-Lining (I am assuming now you’ll have to pay for the latter). Beer costs three dollars, a Cocktail six, Sodas two, just to give you examples. Their Shrimp Ceviche was very good. We left after close to four hours and drove southbound. There are several beach parks similar to Chankanaab along the west coast, and my guess is those are cheaper but I don’t know how much the taxi fare would be to go there. Driving around Cozumel was fun, it looked like an awesome island to snorkel and swim as well as having good food. Downtown (there is only one town) seems to be nice if you are interested in browsing and shopping, at least the several miles along the coast. Further into town it is like a normal Mexican city, with not many tourists walking around.
The next day was our last day and sea day which we used to relax as well as pack. During the cruise we had had to fill out a paper regarding airline schedules etc or no schedule at all and what time we would like to disembark after arriving in Fort Lauderdale. What I had not known at that time was that the breakfast would shut down at 8 am - they did not mention that anywhere in their papers (or I must have really, really missed it which I don’t think I did). I assumed it would be like on the Norwegian, where the guests had to be out of the room at a certain time but could hang out at the buffet or restaurant for breakfast (we had left the buffet on the Jade at about 10:30, having coffee the whole time while they were still having food out). I had put down a time frame of 9:00/9:30, and ended up getting luggage tags for 9:30. On the evening before arriving in Fort Lauderdale I found the breakfast times in the daily Celebrity Newspaper and was stunned reading the – 8:00 time.
Well…so we arrived at 7:40 at the buffet, getting food knowing we would not be able to get more, but still thinking we could at least sit on the deck drinking coffee. Nope. They put everything away, including cups, milk, sugar etc.
Finishing our coffee slowly to stretch the time we and other guests eventually were kindly asked to leave. At about 8:45, we went down to Deck 4, hearing that they were already about half an hour late due to slow Customs. When we got off the ship at 10:20, we found our luggage quickly due to small luggage groups (well organized by Celebrity), but then had to wait in line for Customs for one hour and ten minutes! That was pretty frustrating after having waited already on board for a long time. But I understand that Celebrity had nothing to do with this. I can only imagine how troubling that procedure must have been for people who were in a hurry to catch an airplane.
Oh, several nights and days we had quite some swells on the ocean. You could especially feel it in bed, but also while walking. The ship’s stabilizers do work great, though - looking at the surf we were actually surprised how little we felt, and it did not bother us one bit.
Now I would like to specifically name a few of Celebrity’s employees: I already mentioned Natalia from Colombia before, but also Janice from the Philippines…they were awesome!. They made our evenings fun and enjoyable. Also very nice were Anita from Indonesia and Mariela from Honduras. The few mornings I saw Adriana from Romania on the back deck, she even asked me if she could bring me something from the buffet and brought me coffee which I appreciated a lot. Yessy as well as the other counselors in the kids club were great.
So, coming to the end, I can only HIGHLY recommend Celebrity.
From overall appearance, to the stateroom, to the Fun Factory Kids Club (our six year old LOVED it there), to the Spa (my husband said he had his best massage ever – and the most expensive one), to the fantastic employees, to the great food (I had ONE dish in 11 days I did not like and left on the plate – and as I said before, I am picky!).
The only thing that really should be changed in my opinion is shutting down breakfast so early on disembarkation day. Leave at least the coffee and teas out, please.
But otherwise…thank you for an unforgettable, fantastic vacation!!!