My husband and I have cruised before but this was our first time on Celebrity. We loved it would rate it as one of our favorite ships. We were pleasantly surprised to find a good age range of people on this ship as well as people from all over the world. We met so many interesting friendly people and enjoyed our experience on the ship very much.
Pre Hotel - I traded in Hilton Honors points to stay for free at the Hilton Cavalieri located on a hill overlooking St. Peter's Basilica and the city of Rome. It is a wonderful hotel in a beautiful, peaceful location. If you had to pay I am not sure I would recommend it, because the cost per night is ridiculously high, but if you are a Hilton member it's worth trading in points. They will even upgrade members to a floor where there was complimentary food, drinks and cocktails offered from 7AM - 11 PM. The hotel offers a free shuttle that runs all day to the heart of the city.
Embark/Debark - A breeze both ways. We took Rome Cabs and were dropped off right at the ship about noon. They were on time, professional and friendly. The debarkation process was very efficient, quick, and well organized. We took the ship transfer to the airport and although I had no complaints, the next time around I would stick with Rome Cabs since they were cheaper.
Public Rooms - Beautiful ship! Compared to previous ships we have been on, this was the most sophisticated and elegant. At times, it felt more like a luxury hotel. I thought the layout was very nice, the grassy area was wonderful, the big comfy chairs and beds on the sun deck were great, and the lack of smoke in the casino was a nice benefit.
Fitness/Recreation - Wonderful exercise facility and pools. We found ourselves loving the grassy area and we got addicted to Bocci. It was especially nice with a cocktail at sail aways. It was nice to have such a unique entertaining space on a ship.
Dining - Admittedly we didn't eat in the main dining room very much. While I had no complaints, there were just so many other great options and fun things to do that having a 2 hour meal every night did not appeal to me. We both loved Murano, Tuscan Grille and Silk Harvest and I felt they were more than worth the extra charge. Another great place was Bistro on Five which had delicious crepes. One suggestion to people on a similar itinerary is to take advantage of the nights you are in ports late and enjoy the local cuisine. As fabulous as the food was on board, some of our most memorable meals we had were on shore having wonderful local Greek and Turkish Food. That being said, we had no complaints about the food in any of the venues.
Entertainment - We only saw a couple of shows, mostly because there were so many other things we wanted to do. There was just not enough time to enjoy everything. The dance club and upper lounge were popular places and the band was quite good. One of my surprise favorites was watching the Hot Glass Show. It was very interesting and strangely therapeutic to watch. A tip if you want to win a piece in the drawings is to go the last night because there is hardly anyone that night and your odds are better. Otherwise, it was always popular. Also, although not officially "entertainment" the bartenders at the Martini Bar were great fun. They put on quite a show and kept the crowd entertained every night.
Service - Outstanding! I never met a rude crew member and found them all to be outgoing, helpful and friendly. I saw a disgruntled guest yelling at a crew member who remained calm and smiled while trying his best to be helpful. I have the utmost respect for the crew who sees thousands of new people every week and has to handle less than kind people every day but manages to do it with such calm. The Greek captain was very entertaining and it was refreshing to have a captain who had such a good sense of humor. We found if you greeted the crew back in their native language (it's not that hard to learn a few "good morning's" or "thank you's" in a few different languages), that they really appreciated it.
Ports - For more detail and good tips see my port reviews below, this is a brief summary. For the most part we tackled the ports on our own which was very easy to do with a little research. In Rome make sure to pre-book a tour if you plan to visit the Vatican Museum and buy a Roma Pass if you visit sites. You will save hours of time not waiting in long lines. Santorini was beautiful, be sure to get off early to beat crowds up the funicular and visit Ia which was the highlight of the island. If you are a history buff go to Delos while stopped in Mykonos. The ship's tour was convenient and gave you enough time to enjoy Mykonos as well. Istanbul was crazy but worth the experience. We ultimately decided on the ship's tour which turned out to be a good decision because the traffic was horrendous and the guide we had was a professor who knew so much about the history and culture that it really added to the experience. For those hesitant because you don't want to go to a rug demonstration keep in mind you are not held captive, you can skip the demonstration and look around other places then meet back up with the group. Several people did that with no problems. I found it humorous that people complained about the rug demo when all you had to do was walk away and join up later. In Ephesus we did a private tour with Ekol Travel. I highly recommend this to get the most out of that incredible port. In Athens I heard comments on the ship about the crowds at the Acropolis. The best advice I can give anyone reading this is to get off the ship the second you are cleared and take a taxi directly to the Acropolis first thing in the morning. This is what we did and were able to experience the Acropolis almost by ourselves. There was only 3 other people on the top. In Naples we went to the Naples Archeological Museum which houses wonderful things that have been recovered from Pompeii and the Roman Baths of Caracalla. If like us, you have already been to Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast I highly recommend this coupled with some Napoli Pizza and a walk through the city. It is an experience you won't soon forget. I went into more detail in the port review with a few more tips I discovered.
Overall - We could not have asked for a better experience. We honestly loved every minute. We like adventure but also enjoy a little class so it was a perfect vacation for us. We were able to go out on our own and experience some wonderful sites and come back to an elegant ship. I missed getting information from some of the great people we met so I hope we see you sometime on the Equinox.