Background information We travelled on Celebrity Solstice on 26/12/2009 and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We enjoyed it so much that when I saw a good deal on this 25th June Eastern Mediterranean itinerary on the Equinox, sister ship to the Solstice with maiden voyage on the we jumped at the chance. This was a happy coincidence of a ship I knew I would enjoy visiting several destinations on my "must see" list; before I discovered cruising it would have been very hard to see this combination of breathtaking historical sites (including wonders of the ancient world) and idyllic islands. The sunrise approach into the volcanic caldera of Santorini must be seen to be believed.
Travel to Port We booked a taxi for 110 euros to share with two fellow cruise critic users. We arrived at Fiumicino from London and they arrived from Dulles. Unfortunately, there was a general strike in Rome on our day of arrival and both our plans went awry! Many people were affected by the chaos and departure was delayed by 45 minutes to allow for this. Our taxi company sent separate cars for us as our flights arrived over seven hours apart. Our car made it to Civitavecchia with about 20 minutes to spare. The port is about 45 minutes drive from Fiumicino airport - we enjoyed the view of the ships in port as we descended into Italy after a stunning flight over the Alps.
Stateroom Initially, we booked a category Z inside room. About a month before sailing we upgraded ourselves to a category X guarantee veranda. This was a great deal - we were allocated a 2C, room 6299. This is one of 7 rooms on the 6th floor with a double depth balcony. Half of it is uncovered and protrudes beyond all the balconies above you, allowing a glorious view up to the top of the ship. The view down is obstructed by two metres of the roof of the restaurant below protruding beyond the end of the balcony but the view out and to aft is completely unobstructed. The bed is close to the veranda and was in superb condition. This is a quiet part of the ship. We only heard noise from our neighbours on the day of disembarkation. I would recommend a room here again, choosing carefully between port and starboard dependent on ports of call in order to get the best view. Our bags were delivered within 30 minutes, we had a shower and headed to the sunset bar to meet our fellow cruise critics! Our ship was on the port side. This meant we faced the Straits of Messina in Sicily, the city of Athens at Piraeus (keep an eye out for the Acropolis in the distance - you can see the ship from the Parthenon!), the south side of the town in Kusadasi, the sea in Mykonos, the port at Rhodes and the city at Naples. The views were good from both sides of the ship.
Dining What a treat! We dined in Tuscan Grille (twice), Murano, Silk Harvest and the Silhouette Dining room on all other nights including both formal nights. The formal nights were on the two sea days, having been moved from the day we called at Sicily. Main Dining Room: We ate at the late sitting. We changed tables after the first night as our original tablemates were pleasant but very quiet. We were reallocated by the Maitre d' without fuss and a card was given to us with our new table number. We were seated very close to the captain's table at a six seater round table with a British and an Australian couple. The food was filling and tasty! Highlights for me were the Caprese salad (beautifully presented with quarters of tomato and mozzarella arranged to make a round in the middle of the plate), the rack of lamb and the crème brulee (very large but perfectly crunchy on the top!). Service from our waiter, Pedro, was prompt, attentive and entertaining; he dealt very well with the number of different faces that ate at our table - whenever one couple went to a speciality restaurant, the other two couples found "substitutes" to fill in! We saw very little of the assistant Maitre d', who seemed rather quiet and as if on autopilot when she came around. Murano What can I say? The venue is delightful, the service personal and the food exquisite. If you enjoy fine dining and will only visit one specialty restaurant whilst on board, make it this one. There is a formal, French ambience to the restaurant. We were lucky enough to have a large table for two with a great view across the room, next to one of the windows. Try and get a table here if you can; they are intimate but well lit. Some tables are tucked away in less spacious corners. There is a tasting menu with paired wine (for a premium) and an a la carte menu. This time we ordered a la carte and were not disappointed. Our waiter, David, recommended three appetisers which would suit my salad and entree as I could not decide between the six on offer; I settled for the escargot fettucini with a parsley and garlic emulsion which was quite unlike anything I have tried before. He told me that this was one of the most popular choices with men whilst women prefer the goats cheese soufflE. I was glad to take the recommendation and enjoyed every mouthful! A pear and roqueforte dish followed and then the signature dish; Dover sole, filleted at the table side. It was meltingly good! I had the "six etoiles" dessert which consists of six small, inventive desserts presented in an overgrown test tube rack. Artistic and delicious! Tuscan Grille The Grille is at the back of the ship with large picture windows looking into the wake - breathtaking sunset views are offered as standard. I enjoyed the steak tartare particularly. The calamari on our second visit were a little tough but still delicious. The fillet mignon was just sublime; cooked rare (as requested), juicy and sweet. If you like tableside preparation, order the Caesar Salad. It was first prepared on the 4th July 1924, our waiter informed us as he made the salad. I won't give you any more details of the story as he tells it so well... pausing only when he realised it was 86 years to the day since it was first invented! Silk Harvest The food was delicious and the service probably the warmest on the ship. We did not think the food was unique or remarkable but we have eaten in a lot of superb Oriental restaurants. That said, the scallop and shrimp entree in particular was perfectly cooked and the sushi was fun. The same sushi is served at the Captain's Club event so you can get a taste of it there!
We organised all our Excursions independent using tour guides recommended on CC or independent routes on public transport. All went without a hitch! Messina, Sicily 26 Cruise Critics got together via the Roll Call and I arranged, via Mario and Ignazio Astone (brothers) for a bus to take us all on a route up to Castelmola, then Taormina, a couple of scenic views including Isola Bella and then into Messina. On the bus with us were Laura (a marine biologist) and Ignazio, who shared the guiding. They were very informative and organised a great day. Castelmola is a beautiful old village perched high above Taormina at approximately 1800ft with views to Etna, down over the town and amphitheatre in Taormina and far over the bay of Giardini Naxos. It has a population of approximately 1000 people and is home to a surprisingly large and imposing Duomo as well as many interesting little streets and shops. Next we descending the windy, narrow road back to sea level in order to take a cable car ride up to Taormina, straight into the centre of town. Ignazio had kept this surprise to himself and we were delighted by the view... and by the fact that our 35 euro per person included the tickets for the cable car, cold drinks on the bus and some authentic Sicilian bakery snacks! I had some delicious antipasti in Taormina followed by Gelateria. We stopped to take pictures of Isola Bella before continuing to the Astronomical Clock in Messina. We were back on the boat by 5:45pm in time for a 7pm sailing.