I and my husband (37yo and 43yo) together with three of our best friends (30yo, 37yo and 41yo) took the Ultimate Caribbean cruise on the Celebrity Equinox 20-31 of January 2014. Some of us stayed four days pre cruise at South Beach. Our hotel was the Carlton (not the Ritz) on Collins. I can’t recommend this hotel at all if you stay in the Miami area as it was so loud with old single glass windows. This was my fourth Caribbean cruise and my eight in total, my husband’s fourth in total while our friends were first time cruisers.
The previous cruises have been on Celebrity and RCI. We have both enjoyed them all and the differences between the two lines. On Celebrity we love the food, the fantastic service given by everyone and the demographics which has been well divided among all age groups. For some reason though our fellow cruisers on this cruise was in average much older. This dampened the spirit of our single friends the first days. Not that I say that we couldn’t enjoy the company. On the contrary we had much fun with many (Alicia you were such a lovely company at the Sky bar) and the old “girls” constantly flirted with us in the elevator.
Interesting to read Cruise Critic reviews or the boards were many are complaining on the younger crowd not dressing up according to dress code or being just rude. On this cruise that description better fitted on some of the older cruisers who just did whatever they wanted without thinking of others. Some were very rude not only towards other cruisers, but also towards the hardworking staff.
I’ve cruised both the M- and S- class before and we all though Celebrity Equinox is slightly too large compared to the M-class, but as always we managed to get friends with a whole group of people as well as some staff. The S-class is tastefully decorated and in my view the most “modern” in the cruise industry. Many make the comparison to the W hotels, but as an architect myself I wouldn’t go that far. The whole ship is well laid out and logical as well as outfitted with a high finish. I was visiting the yard when Celebrity Solstice was built and it was fun to later take a cruise on her. I can really recommend visiting the Meyer Werft!
I and my husband had an “obstructed” balcony cabin on deck six. I had carefully chosen this cabin (6174) due to that the life boats beneath is of a smaller type so when sitting down there is nothing “obstructing” the view. If one stands up looking down then one can’t see the ship’s hull meeting the water, but that wasn’t a big thing for us. Our cabin attendant Michael and his assistant were great and always greeted us with a smile. They were always accessible, either in the hallway or by phone. Don’t know if this is a new feature to be able to call them over the phone, but it was in any case great. What wasn’t great is room service. To order on the interactive TV was the easy part, but selection has gone downhill. If one wanted anything interesting then one has to choose the per fee items which wasn’t priced that bad though. Our cabin had the seating next to the balcony which we preferred. The seating and balcony creates a single larger space when laid out like this.
The public areas I like the most on board are the whole entrance/atrium/shopping “street” complex with the Martini bar and Cellar Masters as well as the café and creperie. It’s well laid out, a smart floor plan and all interiors are stylish with a great diversity of styles without making the whole area “busy”. The Cellar Masters is not well used, but with a drink in one hand and nowhere to sit we often went here and had no problem finding a seat. Other areas I love are the main dining room, the specialty restaurants (except the Tuscany Grill which I find rather bland) and the Solarium. At dinner we were seated at the lower level next to the wine tower. First night we sat at the center since they hadn´t figured out that we were a larger group although our bookings were linked by the travel agent. We actually moved to the other location since we liked the fact we could see the whole center of the dining room, but still not being at the center with much more noise. This was a cozy location, but I can see that many wouldn’t like it due to the close proximity to the back area of the food deliveries.
The first nights the whole group of dinner staff was great and felt very professional. This could be a very high end restaurant in Europe. Later during the cruise service slipped with a lot of orders messed up and we got food we hadn’t ordered. When pointing this out the head waiter was reacting as this was our fault. The assistant waiter was then stepping in and saved these dinners. The sommelier also failed to deliver great service mid cruise and ignoring our table for the first half of the dinner service, only attending tables which had passengers without the drink packages. This was though the only time we saw this happening and in other bars this was not an issue. We do all though appreciate Celebrity are still having this service and hearing that this will soon disappear was not good news. The dining room sommeliers are one of the few things still separates Celebrity from the competitors.
Food. A topic everyone has an opinion on with a large variety of opinions when asking around. I cruised when Michel Roux was Celebrity Cruises food consultant. Everyone was raving about the food before my first cruise and what a letdown it was. The ingredients were for sure fresh and there many higher cost items on the menu which were nicely plated, but all food just lacked the most important thing – taste. After Roux left I had better food on following cruises with Celebrity, but the last cruise before this one on the Solstice was sort of a let down again. This time I was surprised about how great most things tasted on this “cheaper” menu. Some things like the salmon tartar appetizer was beautifully plated like on a very high end restaurant on land and tasted fantastic. There were though some main courses that didn’t really hit the right note and some of the meat dishes were a letdown. On the whole the dining room experience is much better than the cruise price would suggest.
The Mast grill offers freshly made hamburgers and hot dogs. Gone are the tacos and nachos unfortunately, but one can find them in the Oceanview Café instead. The hamburgers are the best and we went up there a lot for an afternoon snack (we had late seating) and some of our friends commented after the cruise that the burgers we tried in Fort Lauderdale didn’t taste as good. The café on deck five was not packed with passengers on the drink package filling the seats for hours and hours as I read pre cruise. Rather empty in most cases. They offered same sweets as up in the Oceanview Café with a few special ones. A little disappointed also that they didn’t serve the small sandwiches I had on previous cruises. The coffee tasted well, but the specialty coffee drinks wasn’t any good. I thought we were going to use the café a lot due to our drink package and when thinking how much we sat here on previous cruises. As it came out we just sat here once and then ordered out three times. Staff is as on the rest of the ship the best and helpful. I tried the gelato (had a Captains Club coupon), but it wasn’t that much better than the included variety up at the Oceanview Café.
We tried some of the specialty restaurants like Murano and Silk Harvest. First Murano which is outstanding and better for each time I visit. The menu has changed slightly and to the better with more interesting appetizers and main courses. The table side preparation is really elegant but the presentation of the lobster dish main course did not look appetizing. It tasted great though. The whole experience is something not to miss on a cruise and staff is fantastic without being up your face. Second Silk Harvest. I read quite bad reviews of this restaurant, but my memory of the first time I tried it out on the Solstice are positive. This time though the new main courses and the sushi wasn’t like a remembered it. The dishes are served family style for all to share and we opted for the waiter to make the selection. We got almost all the dishes on the menu out on the table and this was too much for us to eat. I think its better one decides for themselves since too much uneaten food just get wasted. Most appetizers were really good and I can recommend the Chinese main courses, but the rest was quite bland and the sushi rice was to “wet” due to that these weren’t made fresh at the time of ordering. We all had a great time though with great service and some of us thought it was the best dinner we had onboard.
My last notes about food are the Oceanview Café and the Bistro on Five. The buffet on Celebrity is great, but this is only in regard of the food itself. We over heard people complain that there weren’t enough choices. Well the themes areas are the same everyday like pizza, Asian, Mexican, salad bar and sandwiches, but within these areas we found new dishes every day. I can understand from where this complains come from. We saw many having all kinds of food the Oceanview put on one or two plates. So after two days I guess these passengers had tested it all and from then on everything was a repetition. My complaint about this area is the interior style. It’s too cold looking and just oozes efficiency which works ok for lunch, but dinner time it doesn’t work. For diner I recommend taking the food out on the aft terrace which is much cozier and it’s close to the bar. We didn’t try the Bistro on Five on the Solstice so we said let’s do it now. The soup tasted great, but from there it was so so. Service was as always on Celebrity the best and they try their absolutely best to cater for our needs, but the crepes were not great. Basically a thin pancake folded with some boring filling and then some ketchup tasting sauce on top of it. The dessert ones are alright though, but didn’t leave much of an impression.
As on the Solstice the gym is large enough and have all the equipment one can find on a land based gym. Enough free weights and plenty of space. One of the guys working there always said hi, but the girls didn’t care at all. Who cared though was Sanja working at the SPA. What a great girl! During the last days they throw a SPA special at the entertainment court and give you special offers which worked out well for me and my husband. The 75 minute massage cost almost half of the original price. What made it great was though Sanja who was very professional and gave me one of the best massages I ever had. After cruising on the M-class then the rest of the SPA experience leaves a lot to ask for. The M-class huge changing room and large sauna with a view is changed into a cramped area of which most space is just corridors and with a small sauna to fit even more passengers than the M-class. If one wants’ anything like the M-class then one have to pay extra. The Solarium is a fantastic space we used quite a lot, but the SPA Café is nowadays an extra fee space. Too bad, since it on the Solstice was such a great lunch alternative. I’m closely monitoring these small steps away from what Celebrity offered in the past and I’m more and more inclined to test other cruises lines. Not because they might offer a better experience, but the cost cuts might take away my loyalty to Celebrity.
What I do love with Celebrity is the abundance of life acts and music. This is to my understanding not the case with many of Celebrity’s competitors. Great pool band, classic trios and jazz acts. It doesn’t end there. A guitar player we enjoyed at the Sunset bar, two young girls offering low key entertainment on pool deck and a good band in the observation lounge during the evenings. I myself like the production shows in the main theatre, but I can understand they are not for everyone. One has to understand the limited space they have to work with on a cruise ship and how many special acts they can afford on the budget they have to work with. So considering that I think they do a great job and the live orchestra is just something I really applaud to. Mike Pace was the late night comedy show. I write just his name because the whole package with Sin City Comedy didn’t work well. I have no problem with burlesque dancing, but it wasn’t well placed in the show. On top of that the “host” was mostly laughing at his own “jokes” which were the same throughout the three shows (each repeated twice) while Mike Pace put some effort to it and when he realized that many came back for the last repeated show he had new material. And how fun he was!
The whole group enjoyed all the bars onboard and the diversity of them. For some reason though the Martini Bar was mostly empty and not the center of the ship as on our last Solstice cruise. It wasn’t full even on formal nights or nights before a sea day. They should also offer a smaller martini for us with a drink package which I read in some reviews they have done. Not so on this cruise where I got a no and a no every time I asked. Otherwise we didn’t notice any bad service due to the drink package. We got the same great service as always. There were though some things that need to be changed. First the LGTB gatherings which is not anymore advertised in the Celebrity Today (this was taken away some years ago together with other interest groups like Friends of Bill, which for some strange reason is listed again in Celebrity Today) and placed in the Martini bar. So on a crowded evening (like the first early evenings when the LGTB gathering was to be) this gathering just vanished in the crowd. Not a very good choice of bar. The second permanent change they need to make is the time when the disco starts. It’s listed to start at 12:00 midnight. So after the dinner and show we had to lurk around for over an hour before it started so many just didn’t bother. Some Canadians complained and it was moved to 11:00 PM and that worked better.
Our biggest complaint and it wasn’t just us but all who used the disco, was the two bartenders working in there. I don’t know and frankly don’t care if this was their last weeks onboard, but they behaved really badly as if they stopped caring anymore. Not what I expect from the staff at Celebrity cruises. Never a smile if it wasn’t to each other, rude behavior and not service minded at all. They also didn’t know how to end service in the disco on the most populated night in a good way. So there was an argument and they didn’t know how to handle this professionally so security had to pop by and sort out the mess they created. I was personally treated in a very unprofessional manner one night at the Celebrity Central which the disco bar staff handles at night as well. I asked one of them if they had Celebrity’s own labeled sparkling wine since I knew that not all bars stocked it. The answer was the bartender faking going through his mind if they had it in a feminine way and returning with the Italian sparkling wine I specific asked not to bring. The other bartender was for a whole night just talking to his girlfriend whom he at one moment in front of everyone touched in an inappropriate way while ignoring everyone who waited at the counter. If Celebrity want to attract a younger demographics they want then they need to treat the disco as important as others areas of the ship.
On a more positive not I want to mention the fantastic people working in the Ensemble Lounge and the Sky Bar during the evening. Erol, Salvador and the nice dark haired girl (who I unfortunately forgot the name of) in the Ensemble Lounge was very professional, learned our names and preferences. They made the best cocktails onboard by far and every pre dinner drink hour was a delight with them. Last I want to mention the bartender up in the Sky Bar who for most of the evenings took care of the bar up there single handed, but always gave everyone great service. He also kept a bottle of the Celebrity sparkling wine for me just in case I wanted a glass. We had a nice time talking to him about his family and being away so long from them. He created a classy atmosphere up there.
I and my husband saw the last glass show and it was very entertaining. They do a great job in not only describing the step by step procedure to create these glass objects, but they are also funny and the hours up there pass by quick.
Finally I want to mention the excursions. I looked around the internet before ordering any excursions to see the price levels in comparison to the ones offered by Celebrity. In many cases we could save 10 Dollars on taking the taxi on our own to E.G. the dolphin attraction in Cozumel or booking with a local operator, but since we hadn’t been to these places we weren’t sure how much hazzle and haggle it would be to arrange at port so we ordered all on line on Celebrity’s home page. It worked all fine except that a pre cruise canceled excursion wasn’t refunded until we complained onboard. This was then three months after the cancelation which we think is very badly handled. If you do any dolphin related excursions in Cozumel then be warned about the prices of the photos they take of you while being in the basin with the dolphins. Each photo package on a CD cost 150 dollars. You are not allowed to take your own camera with you so this is your only option. We said no thanks and then they lowered it to 100 dollar directly. We still thought this was a robbery and opted out. One can though film and take photos from land so at least we got some photos and film of the dolphins. If you cruised with Celebrity Cruises before you know they hand out cold towels and beverages when you return to port after your excursions and we all thought this is an elegant gesture and much appreciated after a long day in the hot sun.
All in all this was a very good cruise. I wouldn’t say the best or really great since it had its glitches and they single guys’ couldn’t really enjoy themselves when there was no other singles in their age at all. Food is still very good in the main dining room and Celebrity still offer sommeliers, Murano is still outstanding, lots of live music everywhere and staff is extremely service minded. Celebrity Cruises still delivers a lot for the dollars and feel refined without being stuffy.