At the beginning of July my husband and I along with our 17 year old daughter were privileged to enjoy a 10 night Eastern Mediterrean cruise on the MV Equinox. Having experienced the delights of her sister ship, the MV Eclipse in her maiden season in 2010 we had high expectations for this cruise. Indeed no sooner had my husband and I returned home than we started investigating a cruise for 2011. Had we been sure of our daughter's willingness to join us on this itinerary then I have no doubt we would have booked it before we left the Eclipse. You know what teenagers are like!
I will not detail here the attributes of Equinox as Cruise Critics own review of Equinox covers all the bases. Without a doubt she is a lovely ship and was a pleasure to sail on. What I will say is that unlike many reviewers we opted for an Oceanview stateroom. My husband is of the view that you only sleep in your cabin and whilst a balcony is lovely he considers it more essential on a Caribbean cruise (that may in part be due to the fact that our stateroom on the Eclipse was the one nearest to the front of the ship and directly above the anchor. Who needs an alarm call when coming into port when you have that to keep you awake?). Anyway I digress. As I said we opted for an Oceanview stateroom.
I must confess that I was a little bit concerned when I discovered that 3174 was the first stateroom immediately on the right just past the Passport bar on Deck 3, however was delighted to discover that due to the fantastic soundproofing we were undisturbed by any noise from events going on in the atrium or the Passport Bar. I was pleasantly surprised with the size of the window, which gave us a magnificent view, perhaps not as good as a balcony but almost. It was not until we reached Santorini that I realised that it was in fact a magnifying mirror.
There was certainly sufficient room for clothes storage, although I would agree with one reviewer that the wardrobe door tended to be a bit difficult to manoeuvre - ours seemed to remain open for the duration of the cruise as it was easier to do this. On the plus side the fact that we could store two suitcases and two carry-on cases beneath the bed is a real bonus. One teeny weenie quibble would be that my daughter's bed was a trundle bed-, the sofa - and that it was left as a bed for the duration of the voyage. It would have been nice if it could have been changed into a sofa during the day and then made up as a bed in the evening. As it was the cushions off the sofa were just left beside the window. But hey as my husband said just used the stateroom when getting ready for dinner and for sleeping!
Without a doubt the shower-room must be one of the best on the high seas. I would dearly have liked to have replicated it at home. The fittings and furnishings are superb and the toiletries provided of a high quality.
Whilst the location on Deck 3 might not be everyone's cup of tea we found it to be ideal (a) just across the corridor from Silhouette dining room; (b) a nice easy walk up to the delights of Deck 5; (c) ideal for last minute rush to disembark at the various ports and (c) on this cruise very handily located for those numerous visits to Guest Relations (more about that later). All in all I certainly would not hesitate in booking a similar stateroom again. [People have raved about their stateroom attendant. We hardly ever saw ours but he responded quickly if we had any queries. We did have cause to complain due to lack of laundry bags and breakfast room service requests (later discovered that we could order via the intranet) and our attendant berated us for this. However he did apologise once he discovered that we had advised the Head of the Department that we understood he had not been responsible for getting our stateroom ready on embarkation day.
I don't think anyone can argue that Equinox has a fantastic pool set up. A particular favourite of mine is the solarium which on Equinox was adults only. Wonderful. I am especially fond of curling up in one of the round canopied wicker seats beside the Jacuzzis all set for a good read at the end of the day when the majority of people have headed to their cabins to start preparing for dinner. Some have commented that the sun loungers are too close together but I have never found that a big problem. One thing that did throw me at first was the fact that the pool attendants laid out towels on the back of and on the loungers - I thought that they had all been bagged by fellow guests. Certainly the loungers were a lot more comfortable than those compared to those on P & O Ventura which were of the old plastic slatted type with a tendency to tip over.
The main pool area is excellent, catering as it does for those who like to sit in the shade and those who want the sun. Again the cabana type beds and hammocks help create an air of exclusivity. As I am a sun seeker and my better half and daughter shade seekers we spent most of our time on Deck 14, with them in sitting in the area under the shades and me on the opposite side enjoying the sun. (Incidentally, I don't think the Pool Stewards ever found their way up to Deck 14 apart to collect the towels intermittently. Tell me why can't people put their used towels away themselves? It was with some wry amusement that I noticed on our last day at sea the one lady managed to occupy 4 sun beds as she positioned herself on one bed, her bag on another and in the shaded area a book on one and a personal towel on another. She then spent the day going from bed to bed).
We also utilised Solstice deck, enjoying the wicker beds, tables and chairs. I just wish that I discovered sooner that there are also beds positioned on Deck 14 in front of the basketball area. As this is well hidden I suspect that not many people are aware of its existence. We only discovered it when we went to view another ship, I think Princess passing near by us.
Dining and Food
I must admit what after reading several poor reviews on the quality of food I faced this cruise with trepidation. However, I seriously wonder which ship some other reviewers were on as I found the food of a consistently high quality. In Silhouette I particularly enjoyed the Cherries Jubilee and the Tarte Tatin served up on the first formal night (yes I had both puddings). There was certainly never a meal which I thought was neither inedible nor unappetising. As a plain eater my husband was a bit restricted by the choice of appetisers so ended up with onion soup quite a few evenings but that was his choice. My daughter also made it her mission to have a chocolate dessert every evening and she succeeded in that. In fact I was rather spoiled for choice and certainly found it quite hard to make my choices on several evenings.
They do also say that forewarned is forearmed so I was keeping an eye out in anticipation of the brunch, not just because I was aware of the fantastic selection of food that would be served up but also so that I could take my camera alone. Again I was not disappointed. It was interesting to note that "brunch" was not highlighted in the "What's On" just squirreled away on the back page.
Perhaps it was the heat but although we all enjoyed hearty breakfasts we did not seem to eat as much as in previous years. Out "glutton limit" seemed to be reached far sooner despite "Oceanview" still putting on a wonderful and varied spread during the day. My favourite station has to be the "Mexican" one where I must confess to being intrigued by the caramel apples and bananas for breakfast. I tended to have them with pancakes every morning I ate there. Quite a novelty for us Brits! Someone would have to be a very fussy eater not to find something to eat during the day. That said the desserts were rather uninspiring as were the sandwiches for afternoon tea and at times pizza offerings, but that is all down to personal preference. The outstanding feature of "Oceanview" has to be the ice-cream bar. Absolutely wonderful! Does anyone actually buy the ice cream served downstairs? My particular favourites were kiwi sorbet and mango and ginger sorbet, (especially when served with honey rice pudding from the Aqua Spa buffet lunch in the solarium).
Having discovered the Aqua Spa breakfast and lunch on Eclipse I was pleased to discover that Equinox maintained the high standards and offered a healthy alternative to Oceanview. The fresh pineapple and cinnamon and raisin porridge and organic banana and orange muffins were my favourites as well as the aforementioned honey rice at lunch time.
As I had enjoyed an absolutely wonderful meal in Murano last year (it still makes my mouth water to think of the flambEed strawberry and ice cream crepe) I booked both it and Tuscan Grill in advance of sailing. Unfortunately my husband and daughter fussy eaters that they are felt they would struggle to find anything to eat at Murano's so I regretfully ended up cancelling it. Next time I will dine there on my own. Fortunately Tuscan Grill was more to their taste and we enjoyed a very impressive meal. It is worth the cover charge for the location and service alone. Our waiter was most informative directing us to one or two choices that we would not have automatically opted for.
The trouble with having such fantastic food and dining options throughout is that it is difficult to try everything so despite considering dining at Bistro we never managed it. On our last day as we once more stood before the menu I commented that if only they had had a hot strawberry crepe I might have dined there. A hovering waiter overheard this and said that they could certainly do this. Rather unfortunate that we were on our way to change for dinner then. Again perhaps next time.
As we had sailed with Celebrity before we were invited to attend a Captain's Club meet and greet on the first day at sea and whilst I had thought of giving this a miss was so glad that I did not. If you are offered the chance to attend do so as the entertainment and food was first class. It was also nice to meet some of the officers in an informal setting. I also loved the Martinis and Mojito's on the lawn deck. Gold star for that.
Unfortunately no stars at all for the "Dessert spectacular" event in the Sky lounge. As a pudding gal I was particularly looking forward to this, especially as I had enjoyed "Chocolate and Cheese" on Eclipse. Then the chefs had created wondrous creations such as a chocolate Eiffel tower and wishing well with chocolate mice so I envisaged that this would be similar event. No such luck. The desserts were the ones I would expect to find any day or evening in Oceanview and uninspiring to boot.
Also they say that location is everything and that being so perhaps any seated at table located near the entrance to the dining room on Deck 3 should be warned that our service was quite dreadful. Along with our dining companions we would be the first in the dining room and invariably the last to leave. The first night we were asked if we wanted tea or coffee but declined which was just as well as from then on we would never had time to drink it. Invariably we were forced to virtually run from the dining room to the theatre if we want to be there at the start of the shows. Not ideal. As I understand it the ship was 105% full which may therefore have had an adverse effect on service.
After discussing ad infinitum the merits of the various drink packages we bought only one soda package and discovered that that was all we required. My daughter and I were quite happy to make use of the free drinks such as punch, lemonade and water in Oceanview and on deck, leaving my husband to have a soda. I made do with one cocktail a day.
When it comes to entertainment and what you expect from a cruise is purely a subjective thing, whilst some people enjoy lots of activities throughout a ship we are quite happy just to sit on deck reading our books. Actually having read another review I do wish that we had noticed the tours of the kitchens and engine room, particularly the kitchen. As we opted to sun ourselves on Deck 14 we were rarely disturbed by the audience participation events going on in the Family pool, which is just as I like it, although I did take a peek at the officers' water polo. That said my daughter and I enjoyed the music provided by the dance band on a daily basis, by the end of the cruise I was really looking forward to hearing them each day.
As regards the shows in the theatre we thought that the two production shows were very good, although thought that the "singing" which accompanied the Cirque du Soleil show tended to drag on and added little to the show, just added to give the singers something to do. Brookes Aherne was very good but then again not completely to our taste. I understand that the magician/comedian has appeared before the Royal family on several occasions. This being true it does make one wonder at their taste but then again our dining companions loved him. The Italian however singer was excellent and perhaps the highlight of the guest artistes.
Having read various other reviews there was a lot to do during the day and perhaps we should take advantage of these in the future.
Ports of call
One of the attractions of this cruise was the ports of call and they did not disappoint. This was really the first time that we really felt brave enough to book tours independently (thanks to our wonderful Roll Call members) .
Messina - this was the only tour we booked through the ship. Whilst it was very good and I think quite reasonable it was a long way to Etna (2 hours drive) for basically a ¾ hour walk round a crater. As I recall we spent a couple of hours at Taormina and found it be a delightful village, very similar to Eze near Nice. One word of warning take the maps provided by ship for each port with a pinch of salt. They are merely representative and not accurate.
Athens - we had originally planned to do this ourselves by just getting off the ship and making for the HOHO bus but in the end opted for a half day tour organised through athensbytaxi.com. Having visited Athens several years ago all we wanted to do was the Acropolis and then head off for the Hard Rock Cafe. As it was we ended up with a very good half day tour of Athens visiting all the major sights including the Changing of the Guard at Parliament Square. George, our taxi driver was excellent and more than willing to go along with any suggestions we had.
Kusadasi - we joined a tour which had been organised by one of my fellow Cruise Critics to Ephesus and could not fault this at all.
Mykonos - just got off the ship and had a wander around.
Rhodes - as my husband and I had visited Rhodes on our honeymoon I was particularly keen to revisit Lindos. We booked a 5 ½ tour through www.manosgoing.com and had Manos himself as our guide. It was wonderful. We shared this tour with another couple and had a 9 seater bus to ourselves. Manos was so informative.
Santorini - just got off the ship and my daughter and I took the almost scary donkey ride up to Thira and after we had found my husband headed for Oia. As anyone who has visited Santorini knows this is a beautiful island. Oia does become very crowded and we were just leaving as an organised tour arrived.
Naples - as this might be our last visit to Naples I wanted to see the Blue Grotto on Capri. I therefore booked a day tour through www.toursofcapri.com Whilst not cheap at 150 Euros per person it included all the cost of the hydrofoil to Capri, cost of boat at the Blue Grotto, cable car and convertible taxi. If you like Nice and Monaco this is definitely the place for you. Our guide was excellent and even managed to persuade me onto the cable car (I do not like heights).
[gosh this is turning into a long review but almost there folks - just a note now of the niggly bits.]
You may recall that way back at the start of this review I commented that our cabin was handily placed on Deck 3 near Guest Relations. Well in short on arriving at Rome airport we discovered our three suitcases had not made it to Rome due to the one hour turn around we had in arriving in Amsterdam before heading off for Rome. As both my husband and I had warned Celebrity of the possibility of this happening on at least three occasions we were not impressed. Needless to say the concierge became quite familiar with my husband and me but he was always charming and endeavoured be helpful even when we were distressed. Two suitcases arrived three days later in Athens and my daughter's turned up in Mykonos (they would not attempt to deliver it at Kusadasi as there is a black market in suitcases in Turkey). Fortunately we had packed some items in our hand luggage and Celebrity provided us with T shirts, tooth paste and free laundry however our enjoyment of our formal evening was ruined as we stuck out like sore thumbs. I refused to agree to my daughter's suggestion to eat in Oceanview. No one was going to deprive me of my cherries jubilee. Whilst this can and does happen all the time it is not much fun when it happens to you, especially as Celebrity was also warned about the possibility of this. It was rather galling to discover that our luggage had actually arrived in Rome at 16.03 on the Friday and then to see 19 passengers who had missed the ship in Rome arriving in Messina with their luggage.
The knock on effect was this was that we were immediately put on the defensive. That said
despite this my husband and I are already investigating the possibility of sailing on Celebrity again. I am certainly trying to convince him that we should "do" Australia in 2013 for our 25th wedding anniversary.
PS Without a doubt what did play a major part in our enjoyment of this cruise was joining CC Roll Call and corresponding with all the Roll Call members in the run up to the cruise. It was such a help to exchange tips on everything from where to eat, when formal nights were, ports of call and excursions.