This was our fourth cruise on a Celebrity ship, and the fourth S-Class ship we have enjoyed. Having spent time on the Solstice, Eclipse and Reflection, the layout and product was familiar to us.
We flew from St. Louis to Fort Lauderdale on Southwest, escaping the cold in the midwest US. Our flight was delayed due to issues in FLL, but was announced in advance in STL, so Southwest delayed boarding until they were advised by FLL that a landing slot would be open. I appreciated being able to wait in the relative comfort of the airport, rather than the plane. Once boarding began, all went quickly and smoothly and we were headed for FLL. Southwest even offered additional beverages complimentary to make up for the trouble!
We spent the night at the Hyatt Place 17th Street Convention Center location. It was as expected for a Hyatt Place, and a short walk from a CVS for a few last minute things we needed. The past two years we've stayed in the Hyatt Place Plantation, which required a car or expensive taxi ride. The 17th Street Convention Center location provided a shuttle from the airport that was complementary, and a shuttle to Port Everglades for a fee. I believe the fee was $7 or $8 per person. The room was clean, and breakfast was provided. Things that I missed that I had expected were toothpaste in the room, which I've always found at Hyatt Place, and a bottle of water available when leaving. Neither were available. Due to a mix-up with our reservation, however, the room was provided at no charge, so I'm happy to purchase my own toothpaste. :)
We asked for the 11am shuttle to the port, and were waiting at 11am when the shuttle pulled up. The driver loaded up the luggage by ship, and we were off! The short ride to the ship was uneventful. We arrived, checked our bags, and headed in to check in for the ship. We used Pier 18, and they had quite a number of stations open, so registration went very quickly. This is the same pier used by Allure and Oasis on weekends, so they are well practiced at moving people through! We skipped the photo and boarded the ship, then headed to purchase a couple of excursions on board before heading to The Bistro on 5 for lunch.
Lunch was great as expected, and the Bistro was a pleasant location to eat while waiting for the rooms to become available. A couple of announcements were made while we were eating that the rooms were not yet ready, but that was to be expected. This was actually the first time I've heard them making announcements that the rooms were not ready, particularly when it is before 1pm!
Our room was 6240, on the hump, with the bed by the balcony. It is a 2C room, with extended balcony, and there was nearly no obstruction. Our stateroom attendant Oyda, was pleasant and did a good job, providing extra towels as requested and leaving towel animals a couple of evenings. I believe she was training a couple of new assistants, but all went well. I will say that the chocolates on the pillow at night are now all one flavor and I believe of a lower quality. If that is my biggest complaint, things are very good!
We were booked for Select Dining, and did not have any reservations. We appeared when ready the first evening, and were seated in the very back. The service was fine. The next evening, we found that the waiter from the night before had been moved, and since my husband wanted to practice speaking in Turkish, he asked for a waiter from Turkey. We ended up being served by Matin and Dirk the rest of the cruise. Our favorite table was table number 409, right at the top of the stairs overlooking the 3rd floor of the MDR. It was amazing to watch the activities below as the wait staff prepped for the opening of the doors and cared for their guests. We were perfectly placed to speak to the officers as they passed, and got to know a number of them. We also had the perfect view of the Captain's Table on formal night. That was interesting to watch!
We did not participated in many of the ship's activities, as we had booked to relax. I brought along my hand sewing, a few audio books and a few ebooks to read. My DH brought his Nook loaded up, and a laptop loaded with Rosetta Stone Turkish. We both had a great time on our balcony, particularly since it was a quick trip to the Cafe Al Bacio. We also enjoyed siting in the Cafe Al Bacio many mornings and afternoons enjoying a pot of tea and people watching. I also enjoyed the sun on the Solstice Deck for much of the trip! We enjoyed one of the guest speakers on the ship, speaking about the science in Star Trek, but skipped most of the rest. Zumba was offered twice a day most days, but the times were a little off for me. No big deal, I did lots of steps!
We booked a number of shore excursions through the ship, and appreciated the efficiency of the Shore Excursion staff at each port. Each time, they had everyone gather in the Theater and handed out stickers for groups. Then, they sent each group out directly. That was the easiest I've ever had. We had originally booked the Panama Canal excursion, taking us through the Canal, but received a message the night before letting us know that the excursion was to be delayed by over 2 hours. Upon learning that it would be after 8pm before we arrived back on the ship, we elected to cancel the Canal trip, and decided we'll book an actual Canal cruise sometime in the future. The Shore Excursions person we discussed this with said that we likely made the best choice. In fact, we were delayed in leaving Panama due to the Canal excursion.
We ate most breakfasts in the buffet, since it provided the most variety. A couple of breakfasts in the MDR, but we decided after just a couple of days that the buffet was faster and had more to our liking. We often ate before the MDR was open for breakfast, as well. Lunch was hit or miss, depending on how hungry we were. Often, we enjoyed the Indian food in the buffet for lunch, since there is not an Indian place near our home. We had most dinners in the MDR as well. We did enjoy the Silk Harvest one evening, and the Tuscan for lunch on the last sea day. Both were quite nice.
After a relatively poor showing of bar servers on the Solstice last May, we enjoyed very good service on Equinox. There were very few bar servers out when we were on the Solstice deck sunning, but we had very good bar service in the Cafe Al Bacio, the MDR, and the buffet, as well as Silk Harvest and Tuscan Grille. Our sommeliers were excellent at recommending wines to go with our meals, allowing us to enjoy our Premium beverage packages fully.
Disembarkation was a nightmare, and the only really bad thing on the trip. We were supposed to be in the 8:45 group. Rather than heading to the theater, we enjoyed another pot of tea in the Cafe Al Bacio. At 8:45, I checked to see what group they were on, and learned they were about 30 to 45 minutes behind. Customs seemed to be slow. We finally asked to be allowed to leave anyway, and were allowed to do so. We left the ship and stood in line for about 20 minutes before being allowed into the area where the luggage was stacked. Then we were released, collected out luggage, and got back in line. That line took over an hour! Meanwhile, there are people making announcements to get off your cell phone, that no cell phone use is allowed because you are at Customs, no photography allowed, etc. All this while the line moves very, very slowly and wraps back and forth. We got up most of the way, and they diverted a group of US citizens out of line, but because we were ahead of that location, we got to stay in line. Not sure what that was about - why them when they were behind us? They let 10 groups skip! We finally get into the US only line and are placed into a small line - only 4 groups ahead of us at the agent! He collects our passports and declaration form, keys our passport numbers into the computer, looks at our photos, looks at our photos again, then asks me 3 times if I've brought any food back. "Just coffee" I say, "in a sealed package already roasted". "No oranges or bananas or fruit?" he asks. "Just coffee" I reply. This happens 3 times! Does he want to inspect my bags? I have all the coffee in just one bag. No, and we are finally allowed to leave. It was 10:45am. Glad I chose the later flight out! There were a number of people with noon flights behind us, and many of them were starting to become verbally nervous, discussing that they were worried about getting to their flights.
We enjoyed ourselves so much, that we ended up booking a second week for next winter! Definitely won't let Customs cause us problems!