The December 27 sailing of Celebrity Equinox was our sixth cruise overall and second New Year's cruise. We're an energetic gay couple in our early thirties who tend to be relaxation-oriented while cruising. That is to say we're happiest on the beach or by the pool, cocktail-in-hand, and don't always take advantage of the myriad organized activity and entertainment options usually on offer (so you won't read much about them here). We also have little use for anything formal, but do notice and appreciate fine food and quality service.
After a harrowingly narrow escape from the northeast's Great Snowpocalypse of 2010 on the morning of December 26th, we stayed one night at Ft. Lauderdale's Hyatt Pier 66. We had a lanai room that opened out to the pool area. We enjoyed the Hyatt for its sleek aesthetic (lovely sliding louvered doors rather than curtains in the room, minimalist lobby, etc.), but found the hotel's location a bit bothersome. Yes, it's closer to the beach than hotels on the port side of the bridge, but we were only there for a few hours and just needed to get some shopping done and go out to dinner. This led us to the conclusion that we might be better off at the Embassy Suites, which seems to be situated in a more walkable area with more restaurants and stores nearby... We'll try that next time.
We headed to the ship at about 11:30 a.m. The new terminal is very well laid out and convenient. Clear signage and helpful staff abound. We easily located the line for Concierge Class and didn't wait a moment to check in. There didn't seem to be lines for any category, in fact. We walked right onto the ship without slowing down. Bravo.
For us, cruising has so much to do with the ship. For this reason, embarkation day is always one of the highlights of our trip... Exploring the public rooms and touring the facilities for the first time (with that signature glass of X welcome champagne, of course!) is always so exciting. And Equinox did not disappoint. Celebrity Equinox is truly spectacular. Easily the most beautiful ship we've had the good fortune to board. With stunning, modern, grand spaces (like the atrium bordered by eight glass elevators that travel 15 decks toward the sky) as well as intimate spaces (like Cafe al Bacio with its windows that look out onto the promenade, evoking that marvelous ocean liner feel) Equinox has it all. And somehow the ship feels even less crowded than other ships we've sailed on despite accommodating 1,000 more guests.
After seeing photos, we'd imagined that the pool area might feel a bit closed in by the towering sun shades, but it doesn't at all. It's a truly awesome, open space. And nestled at the foot of each of those sun shade structures is a sort of mini-cabana - a wonderful place to spend a sea day. We were impressed with the Sky Observation Lounge and noted several times what a great space it was, but how underutilized it seemed to be. One of our favorite places on board was the Sunset Bar, aft on Deck 15. We spent many evenings up there with new friends. A truly fabulous venue for a sailaway cocktail... I hesitate to even mention it because I don't want anyone else to discover it! We also really enjoyed the Martini Bar on Deck 4. Barman Edy (pronounced "Eddie") is a genius. I won't say anything else because I don't want to spoil it for you. Just go spend some time with Edy and his colleagues. You'll be impressed!
Overall - and in seemingly every design detail - Equinox is magnificent. One example is the feeling one gets when walking on Deck 4 between the Entertainment Court and the Grand Foyer... What could have been a simple corridor, or part of the casino, is a soaring airy space overlooked by the art gallery and Tastings/Molecular Bar area one deck above. This shopping arcade has a very upscale feel, as does nearly every inch of the ship. Design-wise, Equinox is so very chic. Not at all resort-y or kitschy. Just gorgeous.
We enjoyed our stateroom, Concierge Class (C3) 1277 on Deck 10 (bed near the verandah). The location aft of the atrium was ideal as we always wanted to ride on those amazing glass elevators rather than the less impressive forward set. Choosing a stateroom aft of the atrium also means the overhang from the public decks above is one deck higher (further removed) than it is from midship staterooms.
This was our fourth cruise with a verandah stateroom and we were thrilled. The layout is truly awesome. I simply can't explain how they've made 200 square feet feel so spacious. A very comfortable space with tons of storage throughout. And the bathroom is almost shockingly large. We loved the furniture on the verandah and the fact that the sliding door can be fixed in any position on its track by rotating the handle to lock it in place. There's nothing like listening to the sea as you fall asleep. Absolutely the best stateroom we've had.
We ate everywhere on the ship we could! Tuscan Grille was our favorite. We enjoyed two evenings there and thought both the food and the service were unmatched. The filet couldn't have been more perfect. We thought the food at Murano was truly outstanding (the duck was extraordinary!), but the atmosphere was a bit too formal for our taste. Silk Harvest we thought was a lot of fun, with delicious food, but we are surrounded by excellent Asian food at home, so while Silk Harvest was a fun diversion, it was no culinary adventure for us. Still, I would recommend it without reservation.
As I've mentioned, we like to keep things pretty casual on vacation, so the Bistro on Five proved to be a great fit for us. We never wanted to go to the Oceanview Cafe (buffet) for dinner, but there were two nights when we didn't feel like dressing up and having the whole Silhouette (MDR) experience either. On both of those nights we went to the Bistro on Five and enjoyed great food and excellent service in a much more casual, delightful atmosphere, for just a nominal fee. Surely the cover must be for crowd control. It's a wonderful place!
The only restaurant we didn't get to try was BLU. Interestingly, one of the reasons we'd chosen Concierge Class rather than trying Aqua Class is that we thought we'd prefer Silhouette over BLU's "clean cuisine". If I were booking again today though, I'd choose Aqua Class. I found myself disappointed when friends who were in Aqua Class asked if we could be their guests at BLU one night and the maitre d' apologetically informed them that it was impossible. We would have really liked to try BLU. And of course, Aqua Class guest aren't obliged to eat in BLU, it's simply their option. And the setting is so much more intimate than the MDR that I think we would have enjoyed it, given our preferences. That said, however, the Silhouette Dining Room was very cool - glitzy and glamourous. And Celebrity Select Dining works very well. We made and changed reservations a few times without any trouble and never once waited to get in. The only downside is that you may not always get your preferred table... Another reason to try Aqua and BLU. If you value intimacy over glitz and glamour, that is. To each his own.
The service aboard Celebrity Equinox was outstanding. Our cabin attendants Ozy and Alex were really wonderful. Never intrusive, but always eager to offer a cheerful greeting, run ahead of us to open the cabin door, or help with anything else. All the bar and restaurant staff were wonderful too. We had the premium beverage package and didn't notice even a hint of negativity about the arrangement from anyone. It's amazing that on a ship this large (the largest we've been on by a great deal), the service still feels so remarkably personal.
The one negative issue that arose during what would otherwise have been a near-perfect vacation was Cruise Director Que's unwillingness to put an LGBT gathering in the Celebrity Today daily program. On previous cruises, this has never been a problem. Que explained to us that this is corporate policy and that "special interest" group meetings are only posted on a board near guest relations, never put in the cruise daily. Since we hadn't realized this was the case, we'd already missed two of these meetings and imagined there must have been others who were unaware as well. Putting an LGBT gathering (just a time and place) in Celebrity Today just once at the beginning of each cruise would make such a difference to LGBT guests and would require so little effort on the staff's part that I can't understand why Celebrity won't allow it. Still, we eventually did make a bunch of wonderful new friends and despite this issue, felt that overall the service aboard Equinox was first rate.
Disembarkation was a breeze. We were assigned the 8:10 a.m. departure group (based on our flight out) and were told to meet in the Equinox Theatre at that time, and that there was no need to come early. We arrived at the theatre door at exactly 8:10, just as the activities staff was announcing that our group was welcome to proceed to the gangway on Deck 5. Just like on embarkation day, we didn't even stop moving. Just turned around and walked to Cafe al Bacio and off the ship. We found our luggage, made it through customs and were in a taxi before 8:25. Couldn't have been easier. Bravo once again.
Despite the one small issue with the LGBT gathering (will X change the policy?), Celebrity Equinox was precisely what we were looking for. The ship's fabulous public spaces, excellent facilities, multiple delicious dining venues, extremely comfortable quarters and friendly, professional service all made for a near-perfect combination. We look forward to being back onboard Celebrity's Solstice-class ships. Spectacular.