This is a very long and detailed review of our Equinox 10-day Eastern Caribbean cruise out of Fort Lauderdale from January 10-20, 2014. We hope it will be helpful to others and will answer many of the questions we see posted about the ship, ports, Celebrity in general, etc. There were 5 ports-St. Thomas, St. Kitts, Barbados, Dominica and St. Maarten- with 2 sea days in the beginning and 2 at the end with 2 formal nights (the first on the first sea day and the second on the next to last sea day).
Embarkation: We arrived at the terminal at noon. It took a few minutes to drive up to the curb and get our bags taken by a porter. This was the slowest embarkation that we could recall. The Elite line was combined with the Select line. It took about 30 minutes to get through the line and onto the ship. It seemed that they had less people working at the counter as many windows were not open. We were on board by 12:45 and headed to Bistro on Five for lunch with a glass of welcome champagne in hand. Usually, Bistro on Five is virtually empty but that day we had a 10 minute wait. This was the first time we had to wait for a table but by 1:30 the restaurant had emptied and many tables were available. By 1:15 an announcement was made that the cabins were ready and we went to our cabin when we finished lunch.
The Cabin: Our 1A cabin (8199) was port side just off the forward elevators with the bed by the oversized balcony (preferred the bed location by the balcony instead of the bath) just forward of the hump. Our attendant, Teddy, and his assistant, Roman, were wonderful. We saw them twice after the first day yet our cabin was always spotless, toiletries replaced and replenished without ever asking. The air-conditioning worked great and the television had many more channels than I recalled, free movies and on-demand movies for a fee. We gave Teddy a short list of what we needed the first day and everything was delivered promptly. That included our laundry during the week which was returned by the evening of the same day even though we didn't expect it back until the following day. Celebrity no longer automatically provides an ice bucket but Teddy delivered one once we asked. Our only complaint is that the bath towels were showing signs of age and ripped towels should be retired, not placed in the cabin. I have read about this in several posts on CC.
The Ship: We were on the Equinox for the westbound transatlantic in November 2012 so we were familiar with the ship. There did not seem to be any changes since that time although the bed did seem more comfortable than the one we had in our Aqua Class cabin on the TA. The balcony railing had been removed, refinished and replaced during the cruise as had all the balcony railings on the ship. All public areas were in very good condition and the furnishings were not tattered or worn although the outdoor chair cushions on the Oceanview Cafe deck and the Sky Deck bar area looked like they could use a good cleaning- minor observation but people always ask about the condition of the public areas. The pubic ladies’ rooms throughout the ship were always clean, well-maintained and had an attendant present during the busiest times. The Lawn Club grass was in fairly good condition and we saw the crew tenderly seeding many areas. We used the Fitness Center which had a decent amount of treadmills, stationary equipment, weights. There were stretch classes early in the morning and spinning and yoga (in the late afternoon) for a fee. There was Zumba on the pool deck most late afternoons which were free. We did not use the Spa, Persian Garden or locker rooms this time. See below for more details about other activities and venues.
My complaint about the ship was that there was a distinct smell of cigar smoke on Deck 4 between the Casino and the shops and on Deck 5 between the shops and the art gallery. This persisted throughout the cruise and had been noted and reported on CC by others on previous cruises. This was not the case on the 2012 TA. It is interesting because cigar smoking is permitted on Deck 15 aft port side, the only place on the ship. So to smell it that many decks down and significantly forward means that cigars were being smoked elsewhere on the ship (cigarette smoking is permitted on Deck 5). So when on the morning of the 2nd sea day I found a 3-inch cigar (definitely smoked) on our balcony (on Deck 8 forward) we were upset-so far forward of the authorized area and against the wind. So for a few reasons, primarily the obvious safety concern, we asked for a meeting with the hotel director but instead were directed to the head of guest relations, Jann, who explained the smoking policy, etc. We never did speak with Dean Teller, the hotel director although he did leave a voice mail message in our cabin to follow-up on our conversation with Jann but not to schedule an appointment for any time in the remaining 8 days of the cruise. Jann did follow-up with me to let me know that housekeeping was alerted to be aware of any smoking in the area in and around our cabin and to immediately report any problems. My final comment at this time about this matter is that I am in the process of writing a letter with exhibits to Celebrity corporate about this.
Room Service: We had breakfast served in the cabin almost every morning. It seems that several hot items have been added to the veranda cabin breakfast menu (different from concierge, Aqua and Suite menus). It included eggs, cold cereals, bacon, sausage, yogurt, juices, rolls, Danish, toast, coffee, tea. Occasionally, our coffee was served in individual hot tea pitchers which caused the coffee to be cold in 10 minutes. This did not happen when it was served in a coffee carafe so Celebrity definitely needs to invest in more of those. We just wish that Celebrity would improve the quality of the coffee served throughout the ship (see below) as it has definitely gotten worse. We also noticed that they did not bring saucers for the cups on any day so that must be new and we had to request glasses of water or it didn't come. The food was fairly hot when delivered and we were always called a few minutes before delivery which served as our wake-up call. That was lucky for us as our earliest morning wake-up call request for 6:15AM was never received. It was lovely to sit on our balcony and enjoy our coffee even on port days as we were docking. We appreciated the very punctual delivery each morning by the room service staff.
Dining: We had traditional late seating in the Silhouette MDR each evening at 8:30PM at a great round table for 6 on Deck 3 (traditional seating is on Deck 3 and Select on Deck 4). Initially, on the first evening we were joined by 2 other couples traveling together at a very tightly set table for 12. We expected that the other 6 would not appear on the third night nor would the 2 couples (we ate in Murano the 2nd night which was the first formal night). Since we were the only people that 3rd night at a table for 12 we asked to be moved. Our new table for 6 was round and near the Captain's Table which made it a very nice location. Our 4 new table mates were great and we had a marvelous time with them and became fast friends. Our waiter, Bandhi, and his assistant, Dilena, were just fabulous. Our orders were taken promptly, the food was usually very good and hot and we were well cared for. I enjoyed the varied salads and sometimes ordered more than one as they were on the small side. Desserts were very good, even better than I recalled on earlier Celebrity cruises. They knew to bring a large plate of steamed vegetables for us each evening without even asking, that I liked my sauces on the side, etc. We were very pleased and appreciative of the service they provided. The bar and wine service staff were equally prompt and attentive throughout. On a couple of nights I did not like the featured entree selections so opted for the steak. One night it was tender and delicious but another it was inedible. Bandhi was so apologetic and offered me anything I wanted but I decided that I wasn't in the mood for anything else. As I mentioned earlier, the coffee was terrible except for specialty coffees and in Café a Bacio where only espresso coffees are served (see below). The coffee tasted like it had sawdust filler and I hope Celebrity will upgrade the quality of the coffee so that it tastes like coffee-please! We usually finished dinner by 10:15PM but we were never rushed and dining was very relaxed and enjoyable.
We ate in the Aqua Class Cafe one day for lunch. The choices were varied and this time there was a variety of salads with grains, organic breads, yogurts, fruit smoothies, marinated and cooked fruits, and a few dishes from the kitchen. My only complaint about this area is that there are not enough tables. There was a couple sitting at one of the tables reading and it was obvious that they were not eating. I asked the café manager if he would ask them to move since there were several people looking for a place to eat. He said that he couldn’t do that which surprised me. Shouldn’t guests with food take priority over those not eating in a dining venue? I think that Celebrity needs to better train its staff in this area. It seems to be a consistent complaint.
We ate in the Oceanview Café for lunch on two occasions. Both times we thought it was good. We had no problem finding a table after a few minutes. The food presentation was very well done, everything looked fresh and there was an extensive variety of both hot and cold food. One day we went in for a late lunch at 4 after our return from a tour on Dominica since we had not had lunch. We found a variety of salads, fruits, sandwiches, desserts, pizza and pastas available even at that in-between hour. I also noticed that the ice cream bar had a wide choice of flavors and toppings which I had never seen before on any Celebrity ship and there was no charge. We did have sushi one evening (from 6-9) and thought, although freshly made, was marginal (disclaimer-we visit Japan frequently so we admit to being sushi snobs).
We had lunch in Bistro on Five 2 times, once upon embarkation and then again on the second to last sea day. There is a $5 per person charge but it is a sea of calm during busy times in other dining venues. Service is always very good as is the presentation. We like this venue alot for what it offers but it sometimes misses the mark. I had the butternut squash soup and Panini the first time. The soup was very good but the Panini was marginal. The second time I had the buffalo chicken crepe but the sauce was not the standard buffalo chicken hot sauce and the chicken was a combination of white and dark meat pieces that were not fried. I picked at it. The star on the menu is the Nutella crepe which we shared for dessert. That was worth the calories.
Café a Bacio is always a nice place for a good cup of coffee and a pastry. I miss the small sandwiches they used to serve around lunchtime. Now only small desserts and pastries are served throughout the day but the morning muffins are large, fresh, tasty and big enough to share. Service was always prompt and friendly and we could usually find a table without too much difficulty. On our final sea day we saw a hump back whale breach alongside the ship while sitting next to the window. That was our first whale sighting ever and a big treat in the Caribbean. It caused quite a commotion but I was not fast enough to get a picture. I had gelato one day at the Gelateria after returning from the day in St. Thomas and it was a nice treat. Unlike some other Captain’s Club Elite members, we did not get a coupon for this. I don’t know how that happened but it was not a big deal.
Specialty Dining: We ate in each of the 3 specialty restaurants. We had our best meal in any Murano restaurant on this cruise and we eat in Murano on every Celebrity cruise that has Murano. It was our anniversary and when we were seated I recognized the waiter, Brat, from our 2012 TA. When I told him that he was our waiter before, he recalled and repeated our conversation from then and even pointed to the table where we had been seated nearly 14 months before. I was impressed. Service was wonderful and the sommelier knew his wines. This time we had the Chateaubriand for 2 which was added to the menu in 2013. We just love the cheese course served in Murano and look forward to it every time. We purchased an expensive bottle of wine for this special night and it was excellent. Had we realized that Murano uses the Reidel wine glasses (see below) we probably could have bought a less expensive bottle and it would have been very good.
We ate in Silk Harvest one night with our MDR table mates. It is more fun to have a group in that restaurant but the food was mediocre. The best things on the menu (and we had most) were the soups, steamed dumplings and the duck. Everything else was bland, the portion size was inconsistent and the kitchen took too long between courses. I was surprised that when I ordered hot tea it was not available, certainly unusual for an Asian restaurant. But they did have sake for my DH on the Classic beverage package so he was happy. Table service was very good so we think the problem is in the kitchen. Since it was our 3rd time on 2 cruises at Silk Harvest and none being very good (this being the worst) we will skip it in the future unless improvements are made.
The 2nd and final formal night we ate in Tuscan and had a great meal. It was almost a full moon and we watched it rise over the horizon as we ate by the window over the wake. We told our waitress that we wanted to space out the courses since there is so much food with many courses which she did and we appreciated it. I had the crab cake which was very good but my DH said his steak tartare could have been better. We both had chopped salad which was good and shared the tagliatelle lobster pasta with large chunks of lobster tail which was decadent. My DH had the Zuppa de Pesce and I had the filet mignon which was melt in your mouth delicious. And now Tuscan serves all the main course sides a la carte so you can pick and choose what you like to go with it. My DH had the gelato trio and an Irish Coffee for dessert (thank you Captain’s Club) and I had the signature pistachio Crème Brulee-yum. Since we had the Classic beverage package our glasses of wine were filled even before they were empty.
While eating in Murano on the first sea day we signed up for the luncheon cooking class in Murano to be held on our last sea day. There were 16 of us plus the chef who oversees all of the restaurants except the MDR. It was $40 per person and worth it. We started in Murano at 10:45AM with a glass of champagne and received a copy of the 4-course menu to be served with recipes. We were then assigned in groups of 4 to help the chef responsible for each course prepare that course in the kitchen. We got to taste all of the dishes as they were being made. We then returned to the table for a wonderful meal of goat cheese soufflé, quail salad, filet mignon with Marsala sauce, mashed potatoes and sautéed vegetables, and chocolate soufflé. We enjoyed red and white wine poured throughout the meal and didn't finish until 2PM. It was a great way to spend our final day at sea.
Bars & Lounges: We frequented the Ensemble Lounge on Deck 5 most often since we enjoyed the musical entertainment there before dinner. Unlike previous reviews which described super-slow service on some ships since the introduction of the 123 Go promotion that includes the Classic alcohol beverage package, we had no problem getting served in any venue, whether in the outdoor bars or any place indoors. The Passport Bar on Deck 3 near the Atrium was more popular than we ever saw it on any other ship. We think that may be because there was a dance band during dinner hours and the number of guests that had the beverage package. The bar staff and wait staff in Ensemble and Passport were excellent and this was the first time we had ever seen managers of the bars visibly present almost all evening. We saw many more people of all age groups drinking throughout the ship which made for a much livelier, later-to-bed group than usual. We did not visit the Martini Bar which was always jumping when we passed by or the Molecular Bar which was also more crowded than we had seen in the past. Having the Classic beverage package was great but, since we did not upgrade to the Premium package and, since we were told that you could not just pay the price differential for a more expensive drink above the $8 limit but would have to pay the full price (never confirmed that this was true), we decided to be “cheap” this time and stick to what we could drink in the package. For me this was not a problem since I am a lightweight but do love my champagne. So I opted for Proseco most nights and found a couple of reds and whites that were just fine for my taste. But my DH missed his high-priced martinis, scotches and bourbons from the Premium package but was a trooper! We both enjoyed the specialty coffees, fresh orange juice and the large bottles of water whenever we wanted. That was so nice.
Entertainment: There have been many reviews about lackluster entertainment on some of the Celebrity ships lately so we were expecting the same. We were very pleased overall with the entertainment on this cruise. The Chroma Trio, an all-female string trio, played almost daily; a quartet with a fabulous Brazilian singer, Elaine Abras, whom I just loved performed several times almost every night. It was great when she played in Ensemble but when they moved her to Sky on a couple of evenings she was lost in that vast area. The pianist in the group, Zoltan from Budapest, was incredible. I read about him earlier on CC and that he had given a small recital. I spoke with him and found out he was classically trained and asked if he would perform one day. He said it was up to the cruise director whom I spoke to the following evening. The 2nd to last day of the cruise we received a call from the cruise director letting us know that Zoltan would perform the next day in Michael’s Club at 3:15. There were about 35 people and it was like a private concert. We really enjoyed it. Celebrity has teamed up with Sin City Comedy Club from Las Vegas and there was a late night adult comedy show on several evenings in Celebrity Central with Mike Paso (spelling?). He was extremely funny and we saw him 3 different times since his material was somewhat different each time. We were told that the arrangement between Sin City and Celebrity allows past Celebrity guests to see a free show at Sin City in Las Vegas just by telling the box office that you saw a Sin City show on Celebrity. I’d like to find out if that is actually true. There was also a guitarist, Sean Golden, who was a skilled musician and had an extensive repertoire but his voice had a limited range. He played in Ensemble and the Sky Deck bar. There was also a dance band whose name I can’t remember (“Up” something or other?). We personally thought they were always a half beat too slow and the singer was drowned out by a too-loud bass all the time. The stage shows (7 & 9 PM) were the same as always. The Cirque-type show on the 2nd formal night (at 8:45 and 10:45) was good but virtually unchanged from the TA in 2012. The Remix show was disappointing. The dancers were very talented but 3 of the 4 singers were average. There was a ventriloquist, Gareth Oliver, who was somewhat entertaining, a very talented juggler/comedian, David Lucas, a pianist whom we missed so I can’t say anything about him. Another show had a mentalist/illusionist who was interesting but predictable in some of his acts. The best show was Lindsey Hamilton who starred as Evita Peron in Evita and Fantime in Les Miserables on the West End in London. She was excellent but only performed one evening. She performed a duet with Paul, the cruise director, of the Andrea Bocelli/Celine Dion song “The Prayer” which was wonderful and Paul is a marvelous singer. There were a couple of Celebrity entertainer-led dance shows in the Atrium on 2 evenings but we missed them both. I believe one of them, with the masks, had been performed on the 2012 TA. One evening there was the Liar’s Club in Celebrity Central with Mike Paso, David Lucas and Gareth Oliver hosted by Paul, the cruise director, which was very funny. There was also a newlywed game hosted by Paul which has become very tiresome since the questions are virtually the same each cruise.
Activities: Every morning there was a stretch class in the Fitness Center as well as other classes some of which carried a fee. At 10:30AM there was a Brainwaker trivia game in Ensemble and other trivia games (as many as 3 a day) most days, including a progressive team trivia. Unlike other cruises, we did not participate in any of the trivia games since we always seemed to be doing something else. There was bingo but not that many games and not particularly well-attended (we did not participate but were told this). There were cooking demonstrations including how to filet a Dover Sole (I kid you not!). There were Zumba classes each day (it seemed) in the late afternoon on the pool deck and yoga (for a fee) around 5:30PM each day in the Fitness Center. There were dance classes in foxtrot, merengue, cha-cha, salsa, line dancing & waltz hosted by the Celebrity dancers. There were also rehearsals for flash mob participation, a new phenomenon on cruise ships apparently. We participated in a Reidel wine tasting in Cellar Masters on the 2nd to last sea day. Having never done it before and being skeptical we always passed on this on other cruises ($87 is steep). But another guest told us that it was the real thing so we decided to try it. We are now hooked on these wine glasses and walked off the ship with our 8 various glasses (4 each included in the fee). We also learned to play bocce at the Lawn Club and my team won. There were tournaments with other guests and then the officers later in the cruise but I didn’t go back for those. The Hot Glass Show was popular and there were late morning, afternoon and 1 or 2 evening shows. Having attended on each of our other S-Class cruises, we did not go this time around. Celebrity online hosted several classes on the IOS7 operating system and I don’t recall seeing a fee for these but I am uncertain. There was also a Beyond the Podium Series with several lectures given throughout the cruise by 2 gentlemen. One spoke about golf related topics and the other about aviation related topics. We were not interested in either so never attended. We were disappointed that both speakers spoke on topics which we considered uninteresting. I am sure that others may have found the lectures very informative but we thought that Celebrity could have done a better job of getting one speaker to lecture on a more exciting topic.
Some of the activities were for members of certain levels of Captain’s Club so I’ll discuss the Captain’s Club here. We are Elite members and have been for some time. After the change in November 2013 we are still Elite and probably have 4 cruises to go before we qualify for Elite Plus. For us it doesn’t matter as we are happy with the current benefits we receive and with our Celebrity cruise experiences. We received our Elite coupons in our cabin the first day which were the standard coupons we always receive. We used the free 30-item laundry coupon mid-cruise as well as our 90-minute internet each. For the first time ever, we did not use all of our minutes. We found the internet connection on this ship to be better than we had ever experienced and did not have a problem with being “bounced” off as in past cruises. Also, there was no problem connecting my iPad to the account or accessing the internet from anywhere on the ship including our cabin, balcony and on the outside public decks. We used a specialty coffee drink coupon in Tuscan and a 15% off a bottle of wine coupon in Murano. We did not use any others. There were several Captain’s Club events scheduled throughout the cruise. We attended the Elite tea in the MDR the afternoon we left St. Kitts since we departed at 3PM (it was at 3:30PM). I wish that these teas would be more organized. The wait staff misses tables, serves some guests one thing and then never serves it to others, brings one kind of tea and then tells you later you have a choice. While it is a nice concept and appreciated, it could be improved by bringing hot water and then coming around with a box of the different teas and having several servers assigned to an item (scones, sandwiches, etc. so that they can get to every table). We also went to Tuscan for the Elite expanded continental breakfast on the morning when we were in St. Thomas and did not leave the ship till 10AM (open each morning from 8-10AM). Service was a little spotty at 9:15AM even though they were only 30% full. We enjoyed the café lattes, Bloody Mary’s and Mimosas as well as the smoked salmon and fresh orange juice. We did not attend: the Elite cocktail hour any evening (which was held in the Sky Lounge between 5 &7 and did not require vouchers to be used elsewhere on the ship) since we had a drink package; the Elite Officers’ party, the Elite wine tasting; or the backstage tour. All of these are nice events but just didn’t fit our schedule or what we wanted to do when they were offered.
Ports: We really enjoyed this itinerary even though we had been to all of the islands except Dominica. There were 5 ports in a row so there were some early morning departures but the 2 sea days before and 2 sea days after were a great way to relax. We booked private tours in each port so had no experience with any of the shore excursions except from what we heard from other passengers. In St. Thomas we walked into downtown Charlotte Amalie (approx. 20 minute easy walk) and along Main Street, popped into a few stores, visited the synagogue with the sand floor, and had lunch at Gladys’ (a recommended restaurant near the waterfront), visited the flea market along the waterfront then took a taxi back to the pier and did some shopping there. In St. Kitts we took a private tour of Nevis which we arranged through Thenford Grey, a wonderful guide whom we used in the past. Nevis is reached by ferry and we had a wonderful private guide. The highlight was lunch in the beautiful gardens of Golden Rock Inn overlooking the steaming active volcano on Montserrat. In Barbados we pre-booked the Agapey Chocolate Factory Tour online. It is a 15 minute walk from the Pier Terminal and was a great tour of a very small chocolate factory conducted by the owner. The chocolate is incredible and we bought some at a local grocery store before returning to the ship. We arranged for a private taxi driver to pick us up at the chocolate factory and take us around the island and he was excellent. We visited the synagogue in Bridgetown, drove along the Caribbean side and saw the beautiful homes, then up into the mountains to visit Nelson Abbey (not an abbey but a former sugar plantation with great rum), then off to the Atlantic side and Bathsheba Beach for lunch overlooking that gorgeous beach at Round House Inn. In Dominica, after a rocky start with a local guide who kept our CC group waiting for 2 hours at the Botanical Gardens (where we hiked up a trail for a beautiful view of Rousseau in the mist with a rainbow) while he attempted to fill his van (a long story), he somewhat redeemed himself by taking us nearly all the way around the island to Portsmouth, the Fort, waterfalls and other scenic points, most of which the other tour companies/guides don’t usually visit. Dominica is beautiful but it is a very poor country and needs more infrastructure before it can be considered a world-class destination. I am hopeful that this will happen. Our final stop was St. Maarten where we, along with another couple we met through CC, took an all-day cigarette boat snorkel trip with Capt. Bob Cass. Although we encountered hard rain and winds during the first 1.5 hours, the rest of the day was beautiful and we had a wonderful time snorkeling with the green turtles, eating a hot lunch at a beachside restaurant in Grand Case, visiting Pinel Island and anchoring off Maho Beach while the planes landed just over our heads. The other 2 couples that joined us from 2 other ships in port that day were a lot of fun and it was a great time.
Final Thoughts: Every cruise, just like every vacation, has its ups and downs. We have come to expect that so we make it a point to enjoy each moment we are away from the stresses of life. This was a wonderful cruise, with excellent crew and service, good to excellent food, great itinerary, a lovely, well-cared for ship, comfortable cabin, enjoyable entertainment and activities, marvelous table mates at dinner and a fun group of passengers. We are booked for other Celebrity cruises and Celebrity continues to be our favorite cruise line.