Your taste in dining style may differ from ours, but Equinox accommodates all delightfully.
Background: two married professionals, newly retired & exploring. This was our first cruise on Celebrity since a "Capitals of Northern Europe" expedition in 2004 on Constellation. We circumnavigated British Isles then a Norway cruise on NCL in May/June 2009 on the Norwegian Jade. The shipboard experience then was so bad that we viewed this cruise with considerable trepidation -- unnecessarily.
We flew from Dulles to Rome on British Airways via Heathrow (the flight was magnificent, but try to miss Heathrow). We flew BA because BA has a World Travellor Plus cabin. It has just a bit more space to recline and to spread sideways that makes the long distance travel less onerous.
Our stay in Rome was very rainy. We tried the wrong hop on/off bus; the view out the windows on the lower level were obscured with exterior advertising. We suggest that you try some other vendor other than the Rome Green Hop on/Hop off Bus.
Our airport to hotel, hotel to ship, and ship to airport transfers were arranged with assistance of our TA (GalaxSea Cruises of San Diego, CA). They are terrific! We recommend them with no qualifying comments. Every little problem was handled superbly.
Registration to board: fast and easy.
SHIP: Equinox is in its Inaugural season with lots of small problems all related to its newness and "form over function" design. Nevertheless, it's elegantly beautiful. We almost never felt crowded on-board or during any of the ship to port disembarkations. We generally were very crowded moving vertically on this immense ship, however. Meals, except in the main dining room (MDR), were calm.
STAFF: Exceptional in every way. Helpful and courteous from top to bottom, in every department. They tried (and were almost always success) in solving cruise related problems.
More explicitly about this question of "form over function": Aqua Class is supposed to be a premium, occupying the Eleventh Deck of the ship. We had a balcony cabin on the starboard side (which meant that we saw very little but the sea when cruising). Directly above us was the jogging track. While we rarely heard joggers, we did hear high heels excessively on formal nights.
Aqua Class is supposed to have prior access to the Aqua Spa Cafe; unfortunately, this gem of an eating venue is on the port side of the ship, adjacent to a smoking area. While it didn't ruin our experience too much, we did minimize our use of the cafe because of the smoke odor.
We really didn't find much use for most of the amenities in Aqua class, but that is just us. The relaxation room and Persian Garden are lovely as is the free fruit and bottled water.
The ship has elevators forward and aft. The location of the aft elevators is an issue, since they are split by a lobby (4 on each side of the ship). Since the eating facilities are all located aft, the vertical movement during eating hours or other prime times can be a hassle.
STATEROOM: another example of problems. Lots of room to store clothes on hangers, very little room to store clothes in drawers. While imaginative use can be made of a large cabinet space above the bed, this means walking on the bed to get clothes. Not the best idea when the ship is rocking during stormy seas.
We experienced several equipment problems in the stateroom, all of which were handled expeditiously by Equinox shipboard staff. In the process, we discovered that several of these issues were rather common. Toilet valve stuck after flushing, flooding the bathroom; refrigerator failed; flatscreen TV needed to be rebooted; bottom of curtain unraveled; "new ship odor" was a bit noxious.
Safety drill, a mandatory exercise, was a farce. It wasn't until after the drill did we find the auxiliary staircase that we should have used. We never were told which was our lifeboat. While we heard the PA system announcing detailed crew fire drills on days when there were large numbers of passengers away on shore excursions, the passenger safety awareness was minimal.
ACTIVITIES: Since we were part of the "Music at Sea" group, we thought the activities were superb. Other activities involving classical or "soft" rock were also fine.
SHORE EXCURSIONS: We generally booked our own in Turkey and Israel, In Greece (Athens & Rhodes) were done on our own as well. In Naples, our "Music at Sea" group had a private tour of Pompeii. In Alexandria, Egypt, our tour was a bust because the guide (probably the same one mentioned in an earlier review) was too busy selling t-shirts and cartouches. The Cairo trip was magnificent, with a guide that was perfect.
DINING & ENTERTAINMENT: It really is a matter of taste. We like fine dining, but hate menus written primarily in French, as were the menus in the MDR and Blu. We find it exceptionally pretentious, adding little and wasting inordinate amounts of time. Blu is "clean" cuisine, not "healthy" cuisine. We gave up after second try. My sister has numerous acute food allergies; she found the maitre d' in Blu magnificent in helping her, and she loved the food there.
We ate all three formal nights in the Silk Harvest (Asian fusion). With 40+ years' experience with a variety of Asian cuisines, we have very high standards: Silk Harvest exceeded everything we've previously experienced on land (and, of course, at sea). The food was phenomenal, and the service matched. The value was exceptionally high. I urge you to try it.
We ate five nights in the MDR (Silhouette). Staff were very busy, but tried hard to help us with the French menu. Given the busyness of the venue, we just tried to stick to the healthy choice menu. They got our orders correct perfectly 3 of 5 times, but the errors were just of the side dishes.
The other four nights, near the end of the cruise, were in the Oceanview Cafe. WOW!! Okay, it was not a "fine dining experience" with waiter service and table cloths. It was only great, hot food. Even with rough seas, we didn't miss the trays in the evening. We should have gone there earlier.
Based on prior experience, we tried having breakfast in either Blu or MDR. We changed after a couple of trips to both venues, and never found the Cafe overcrowded or the quality of the food lacking.
We never ate at either the Tuscan Grille or Murano. Murano's menu turned us off, and the quality of the food in Tuscan Grille may exceed the steak dishes offered elsewhere, but we didn't find it necessary. We also never ate at Bistro on Five. See comments above for the Aqua Cafe.
SMOKING POLICY: There is very limited smoking indoors on the ship. That means that the travel through the casino or lounges could be done without gas masks. (For you smokers, I'm sorry; for non-smokers, a truly great innovation.) Smoking is allowed
FORMAL NIGHTS: My wife and I dressed in business atire every working day for more than forty years. We do not find it necessary to do so on a cruise. Policies on the ship allowed us to eat at any specialty restaurant without offending anyone, or being offended ourselves by the need to fit in. What a joy! Similarly, the Oceanview Cafe is very informal, making it just another great reason to enjoy ourselves up there.
ENTERTAINMENT: If you enjoy "Las Vegas style" entertainment, you'll enjoy the presentations. If you enjoy "easy listening," soft and mellow music, light jazz, or classical, you will also enjoy yourselves immensely.
SHIP SECURITY: Normally an invisible function. There was an "incident" involving some people who tried to board the ship while in Turkey. Handled by the ship's security staff in an amazing way. (I'm a security professional, so I noticed the incident when we were boarding the ship after our excursion.)
CHILDREN'S CLUB: Essentially invisible to us, but the few times we did see the kids, they seemed to be having a good time. We suggest you talk to someone else with personal experience, though.
DISEMBARKATION: Fast, easy, smooth, unstressful. This was amazing, since we were a party of six when leaving the ship, all with different disembarkation assigned times and baggage numbers.
ITINERARY: Magnificent, but Alexandria was a complete waste. We found that a starboard stateroom disadvantageous only because all sights were visible on the port side.
SUMMARY: For non-smokers, it was an amazing experience. We only wish that the menus were in English (after all, it was an English speaking cruise!) Staff were always superb, and food was just fine.