We always choose a cruise for the itinerary, with the cruise line choice very important as well. We prefer Celebrity & have sailed w/them (including Azamara) more than any other line. We were thrilled with this cruise & in fact rate it the best ever. We booked our air w/Celebrity & one additional night in Rome at the end of the cruise which sailed July 16, 2010 for 10 days. Our ports of call were Messina, Sicily; Athens; Mykonos; Kusadasi; Rhodes, Santorini, Naples, and return to Rome.
Embarkation was smooth & easy as always, with a glass of champagne passed out upon boarding. A crew member was to escort us to our cabin, but I declined as our room was easily located. We were almost right off the elevator in a cabin jutting out around the atrium, an excellent location. We were very pleasantly surprised with the cabin design, with multiple features not found on other ships; i.e., the foot rest for women in the glass enclosed shower, the storage above the bed, the bed's corners at the foot rounded off, storage space in the bathroom beyond belief with several drawers & 6 shelves plus "counter space", the full-length mirror outside the bathroom and a desk/TV area that utilized space well. We also loved the fact that the closet faced the room area as opposed to the the bathroom entrance. The veranda furniture was great with tall backs & adjustable reclining. We ate room service breakfast there several times. The couch was amply large as well. The closet also had two drop down racks for trousers or other short items to utilize space well. The light wooden decor was very nice also. Soundproofing was excellent & we loved the fact the the cabin doors never slammed shut--they were on a slow-closing spring, but always shut tightly.
Public areas -- The entire layout of the ship was excellent allowing for great passenger flow throughout. The ship was full w/approx. 2700 passengers, but never felt like that many. The shows in the Theater were superb & there were always vacant seats available even if you arrived late. The stage was specially designed to accommodate their shows with a section that allowed the floor to drop & another raised section to allow performers a higher location. Several shows also had performers doing acrobatics from the ceiling over the stage as well as over the audience. The performers were multi-talented indeed. I went to the Hot Glass show several times & found this very interesting, however, I question the location as it was on the Lawn Club which also had bocce (lawn bowling) & a putting course. The benches provided at the Hot Glass show sometimes were insufficient plus it was difficult to see from the back rows though there was a camera view on TV screen. There was a bar behind the Lawn Club which did not receive much air circulation. The pool area was designed well with cushioned deck chairs and a small area which was used as a dance floor for shows or had fountains (wet zone) during the day. There were two outdoor pools & 4 whirlpools which we did not utilize because we chose to use the Solarium with indoor pool & two whirlpools as it was adults only. It was stuffy in there, however, even though I did notice windows open sometimes. We only tendered once in Santorini & this process was conducted well. We did not tour here so we let the early people disembark & when we were ready, there was no line & no need to get tender tickets. When we arrived in Santorini, we just got in line for the cable car. We arrived at the top (Fira or Thira) and enjoyed this island on our own. We took the local bus (less than 2 Euros ea. way) to Oia for additional views from this location. Oia is less crowded & shopping is fabulous, with art galleries, jewelry stores, & many other upscale shops. The local bus ride afforded us a view of the other side of the island which has some flat areas for vineyards & other crops. Wine is stronger here due to the volcanic soil. Upon our return to Skala Harbor at the bottom of the cable car ride, we took the tender back to the Equinox. Upon return to the ship in all ports, we were offered cold towels & punch or water and were usually through the reboarding security process in less than 5 minutes.
Dining--We ate at first seating at a table for 10 on the main floor. I believe the second floor was for "anytime dining". There were numerous tables available with no passengers utilizing them during our seating. Our assistant waiter always had our beverage of choice (iced tea) delivered before our appetizer. We chose this time as we had numerous early tours the following day & therefore did not "party all night". Dinner service was excellent, however, several times the food was only average or tough once, but we requested a replacement immediately from our waiter & it was promptly delivered. Multiple requests for dessert or entrees were easily accommodated. We ate in main dining for breakfast only once as service was extremely slow & not all ordered food was received. We needed to meet tours & this did not fulfill our needs, although there was supposed to be "express breakfast" there.
Specialty dining--we ate in Murano for our anniversary & would rate this 5*+. It could not have been improved upon at all. The courses were served by a staff of approx. 7 different people at the proper time intervals & the experience was thoroughly enjoyable. We also ate at Tuscan Grille the night of sailing as all specialty restaurants are 2 for 1 special that night only. This also was excellent.
Oceanview Buffet--This venue was open 24/7 and contained an ice cream bar in the afternoon. We utilized it for lunch/snacks/breakfast. The design was multiple stations scattered throughout; however, the beverage stations were too small & insufficient quantity as it was difficult to get your beverage with no place to form a line. Food selection was ample & varied, with no complaints except the egg specialty section. There was always a line w/too few chefs there.
Room service--we ordered breakfast room service several times due to early tours & although the order form gave a range of times, food was always delivered within 5 minutes of beginning range time & we received a call letting us know it was on the way (presumably to make sure someone was dressed to open the door). We enjoyed eating on the veranda & there was ample space to do so. Menu was excellent & I found quantity of food more than ample.
Other public areas--Promenade deck with shopping, casino, & Entertainment court was designed well except for an area of seating outside Quasar bar which was an obstruction when going to the theater (especially in the a.m. when getting stickers for tours). The disbursement of stickers for the purpose of tours was very well handled with entrance on the left stage & exit to the right, allowing easy flow. We did not utilize bar service much, but did notice the quantity of bars to be adequate & appropriately located throughout the ship. Photo gallery was laid out differently than had seen on previous cruises w/the main benefit being that ship's photos were available for view in the privacy of your cabin. They could be ordered there as well. We ordered the videos (DVDs) (one was free with the other) which is money well spent if the ports are something you want to have a keepsake of. There was ample opportunity for formal photos, though we did not utilize this service. I used the fitness center several times just to workout on the equipment. Our tours offered plenty of walking. It was large but usually busy except early in the a.m. There were many classes offered if interested. I usually get a massage at the spa, but did not have time this cruise to utilize their services. Did not see table tennis or shuffleboard facilities which was unusual, but there was a basketball court and as I said, golf putting course on the Lawn Club.
Entertainment & events--We thoroughly enjoyed the three main performances because they were unique & NOT the Las Vegas-type show. The other performers were excellent as well. The A Cappella Voice Males traveled to different venues at all times of the day & we could here them outside our cabin from the atrium multiple times. The ship's Orchestra was excellent, no matter who they were backing up. There was a classical string quartet & a dance band which played poolside. Dancing with the Stipes was very entertaining as well. We did not see the magician as it was our anniversary. While in port in Kusadasi, a local dance troupe presented a show of Turkish dancing in the theater which was a nice touch. Violinist Vincenzo Gentile was superb even though violinists are not usually my cup of tea. We had seen vocal entertainer Jack Walker on our last cruise (Princess) & another earlier cruise & always enjoy his show. There were multiple opportunities for "dance lessons" conducted by the dance performers & we always found them great, but couldn't attend as many as desired due to scheduling conflicts. The farewell show w/multiple acts was a great way to bid adieu. We had multiple special events to attend due to captains club level, anniversary celebration, & cruise critic get-together & our only complaint is that they were held during the first several days with scheduling conflicts especially on the second day (first sea day). I did not even have time to go poolside that sea day which is very unusual for me. Guest lecturer was informative (Kathleen Wulf); however, her lectures conflicted with time needed to get ready for dinner so I missed the last portion of them most of the time.
Staff--Service on Celebrity is always top-notched and this cruise was no exception. All staff was pleasant, smiling & accommodating. We attended multiple special events & found the staff (including officers) very personable. Our room steward Elvis was on his last cruise before a 3-month sabbatical, yet his service was great even though he had a young infant daughter and wife at home that I'm sure he's was anxious to see. Kudos to all staff.
Excursions--We used Celebrity's shore excursions exclusively & their reviews will be separate under port reviews.
Misc.--This was the middle of the summer with some families aboard. For the most part, children were not unruly; however, on the first two days, teenage boys were playing games with each other involving the elevators & pushing all floor buttons, but this ended after a couple of days. There are programs for all ages on board & they were apparently utilized as we encountered few children aside from tours or other event with their parents. We are in our late 50's, but found a wide range of ages aboard. I would say that "retirees" were limited compared to most Celebrity cruises we have sailed, probably due to the physical requirements for the ports visited and perhaps the time of year since families take summer vacations. We usually travel during the winter also. We also encountered passengers from many different countries including Brazil, Mexico, Germany, Italy, Ireland, England and other Europeans, with the majority North American (quite a few Canadians). Foreigners spoke English as well.
Disembarkation & additional post-cruise day--We spent an additional day in Rome at the Cicerone Hotel with disembarkation early in the a.m. since we purchased the Celebrity excursion of Vatican Museum & St. Peter's Basilica directly from the ship w/transfer to the hotel. We picked up our bags shoreside & took them to our bus & they were subsequently delivered to our hotel while we were on our tour. The tour was excellent with our local guide giving us very informative details on Vatican City, especially the Sistine Chapel. He used a rolling guide board to discuss what we would see as photos are not allowed inside the Chapel. He also was extremely informative in St. Peter's Basilica & though we had limited time in this extremely large facility, he covered the highlights well. We also had time to shop in the square before returning to the bus. The bus ride took us past the Colosseum, Castel San'Angelo and other sights on the way to the hotel. When we arrived at the hotel, a Celebrity hostess had made arrangements for our room along with the other 3 parties staying at the Cicerone. She also stayed for a while after check-in to answer questions. We were able to purchase tickets for the hop-on, hop-off bus (#110 red w/top open deck city sightseeing) with American money ($21). This was the best way to get around with limited time as we were flying out the following morning. The day pass is good for 24 hours. We had a Celebrity escort to the airport & Max actually took us through customs & to the VAT desk for stamping of purchase papers & through the entire check-in process (including our bags), short of going to the departure gate with us. As I said, Celebrity is first-class.
Summary--We usually sail the Caribbean, but the combination of the Mediterranean (like glass) and the Solstice class ship gave us the smoothest sailing ever. We love Celebrity & will continue to sail with them. Overall, this was probably the best cruise ever for us, with very few minor complaints. We got all we wished for & planned to see/learn. Celebrity does not "push" purchasing of anything & we love this fact. Also, announcements are rare, with the Capt. speaking only once daily indicating our course of travel, weather, Land sights to see, etc. There was an additional announcement on the two sea days regarding ship's activities. We are eternally grateful for the limited interruptions. We look forward to our next Celebrity cruise and have already received a special invitation with discount via email for a future booking. First-class all the way!