Nov: Equinox Eastern Med: Cold but fun
Europe - Eastern Mediterranean
The Equinox is exquisite. This was our 16th cruise (we have sailed on Celebrity's Millenium, Mercury and Summit, as well) but the Equinox strikes the perfect balance of offering lots of possibilities without seeming too loud, too crowded, too gaudy or too big. Our cabin was on the deck 7 (7223) and was straight up to the Lido and straight down to the Silhouette dining room (we've traipsed miles to get to cabins in the aft in the past). There was a wonderful big meeting area in front of our cabin, with a table made from an enormous slab of burl oak, which people used throughout the voyage to play cards, read or talk. Very peaceful and inviting space with a live tree suspended above the decks in the elevator space- you have to see this to appreciate it.
The balcony had two chairs, which semi-reclined ( a nice touch!) and a table big enough for breakfast. Our bed was next to the sliding glass door and was made up with the fluffy duvet which is both light and warm. The flat screen More
TV frees up room on the desk, and the hair dryer actually fits away in the desk drawer (sometimes they don't, quite.) The lighting in the cabin was good, with a dimmer switch and a lighted phone by the bed (so bright we stuck a pillow over it at night). Cabins can get very black at night, at sea, and the bath had an ambient light that is just bright enough to get you in there in the dark, without keeping you awake all night.
We used the wake-up call feature on the phone, and liked the info available on the TV. You can view photos there instead of wandering around the photo deck, and it was handy to check our account balances and order excursions from the cabin.
We had early seating for dinner, and the food was excellent, even when the presentation was a little over the top. The steaks and chops were especially good, even when the side dishes got kind of...wacky. But hey- we are on vacation. Why not have glaceed wing of spring duck with carmelized radish tops, if you really want it? The crÃÂ¨me brulee was perfect every time and the raspberry lemon sorbet was delicious. Our waiter was funny and fast and never made a mistake. I don't know how they do it. Celebrity keeps the singing and dancing to a minimum, so the service is good and coffee is always served with dessert. (Some ships make you beg for a cup of tea after dinner.)Ice cream is free in the buffet and the buffet areas rarely seemed congested even though our sailing was fully booked.
The ship is spotless and the public spaces were gorgeous. We ended up behind a pillar after arriving late at one of the night productions, but that is what you get for dawdling over coffee. The shows were average, with one outstanding night of acrobats, drummers and jugglers- who knew? It was kind of an abstract African-themed light show with impressive costumes- Avatar-style?- and no particular story line. You had to be there, as they say.
The glass-blowing demonstrations are held outside on the top deck, which is cold and windy but so interesting you stay to watch, even if you freeze. The real grass on the outside deck is exactly as advertised and would be appealing in July, but was too grey and windy for use in November.
Over all, this trip was magic. The ports were diverse, the service on the boat was unobtrusive, the cabins were comfy and the price was remarkable, considering the level of service. Altogether, a 5 star voyage.
One note about Rome Cabs: We used them for our return shuttle from the ship to FCO, going home. We had arranged with two other couples from Cruise Critic to share a ride. We had early flights (leaving Rome at 11:30 am is really too early, but that is a story for another day) so we needed a pickup no later than 7 am. Our driver was there waiting with our name on a sign at 6am, handled our luggage, kept us comfortable during a delay that was not his fault and got us to the airport in plenty of time, despite problems at the port that were out of his control. These guys are pros and we will definitely use them again in Rome. (There has been some confusion over which shuttle company is which. The one we used is at http://www.romecabs.com/ and our contact person was Stefano Costantini at 339 - 352 5028) Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
Athens (Piraeus), Greece: We took the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tour (22 Euros each) which you can join outside the pier. (You walk out of the pier area, down a few blocks on the main street and you can see the lines forming at the bus stops.) We sat on the top deck, which was fun, and listened to the Zorba-The_Greek music on the headphones- yay! The bus takes you to the Acropolis, of course, and also all around the busy crowded downtown areas. We saw attentive staff on the buses we used, who paid attention to getting us back to the ship on time. Traffic is horrendous, so just relax and enjoy the scenery. We roamed all over the ruins, saw all kinds of historic buildings and enjoyed the day. There is a LOT of walking, since everything is on ancient hillsides. After the charm of Chania, Athens was big, noisy, crowded and smelly, but so historic, you just HAVE to go see such a place. We found a blue glass Christmas tree ornament for 3 Euros in a dusty shop by the Acropolis, but we didn't see a lot of tourist/souvenir shops (Piraeus has a nice little train you can ride around the port, if you are not up for the full-blown trip into the traffic of Athens.) Some pics are here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/47965260@N02/sets/72157628066959037/
Chania (Souda),Crete, Greece: The old part of Chania Town was a highlight of the trip for us. We like to roam around on our own, and the old city provides an inexpensive bus right from the pier to the agora market downtown. We literally walked off the ship, bought our tickets at a kiosk at the pier(1.5 Euros each way per person, so six Euros for round trip for two), hopped on the waiting bus and ended up in the market place 20 minutes later. The old town is lovely, with a 14th century Venetian lighthouse on the harbor, and wonderful mosques, museums and cafes right on the water. The prices on leather and ouzo were better here than anywhere else on the trip, too. The main market has fresh fish, local honey and olives and loads of charm. Granted, we had a gorgeous 75 degree sunshine to enjoy, but the cobblestone alleys, unique shops and incredible scenery made Chania one of our very favorite stops. Some photos of Chania are here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/47965260@N02/sets/72157628053660943/
We met friends who live here at the Karakoy Gulluoglu Baklava Shop on the waterfront. You can walk from the pier area down the main street to the Bosporus, which on a November morning was COLD but beautiful. Local fisherman stand around this area, casting in to the river. The Galata Bridge is easy to walk across, and that takes you into the Old City- which is incredible: the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar are tucked into old squares and gateways, just like in the movies. Istanbul has a good tram system, and our friends showed us how to buy the tokens to go from the Sultanahmet station to the Tophane stop, which is walking distance to the cruise ship pier we used on this trip. The ride costs two lira (about $1 USD) per person and is well worth it after walking around the bazaars all day. The merchants in the bazaar take Euros, dollars and lira, so you don't really need to change your money to lira for shopping- but the public restrooms all charge 1 lira, so change $10 USD at one of the money changing shops, just in case. (The tokens for the tram have to be paid for with lira, too.) This itinerary allowed two days in Istanbul so we wandered all over the city on foot. Even though it was cold and sometimes rainy, the smells and sights of this city are unforgettable. We bought dried apricots from the street vendors, along with fresh ground Turkish coffee, fine as flour. The call to prayer woke us up at 6am every day and the lights of the mosques reflected in the water at night. Istanbul photos are here http://www.flickr.com/photos/47965260@N02/sets/72157628053667277/
Ephesus (Kusadasi), Turkey: We should have taken the excursion to Ephesus, but opted to wander around the port of Kusadasi, instead. The city is interesting, and would be wonderful in warm weather as the beach with palm trees is right against the ship. But we walked through the bazaars rather than touring ruins and had a good day anyway. There are some excellent candy and coffee shops downtown, and a beautiful small mosque with an amazing rose garden just up the hill from the Oriental Bazaar. If you like bargaining with vendors and lots of walking, the port here is fun. (But go when it is warm. Our feet were cold by the end of the day)
Naples is a big, noisy, smelly, graffiti-covered city. BUT - it also has a grand medieval castle, the amazing Galleria Umberto, across from the San Carlo opera house, and the unreal Piazza del Plebiscito, which is an enormous square on the gulf of Naples, by the Royal Palace and the church of San Francesco di Paola. You just stand there and gape. There were kids playing soccer in the square and Dave returned a foul kick for them. Couples were making out all along the waterfront. Dogs wandered around, the traffic was terrifying and we watched a new Versace collection being launched at a department store, followed by a street protest complete with cops and sirens. What else do you want from a visit to Italy? This is the home of Vesuvius and Pompeii, but we decided to see the living city instead of the buried one. Shopping was either very high end or street vendors selling used goods- not much tourist-oriented stuff, but interesting to wander around in during the day. Some of the back alleys got kind of scary-looking and definitely would not be scenic in moonlight. Photos are here:
Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy: We flew from Dallas four days early to see Rome before the launch. We stayed at the Marcella Royal Hotel at Via Flavia 106, Rome, Italy (which was excellent: read the reviews at TripAdvisor.com) We stayed right in the center of the city and enjoyed walking everywhere in perfect early fall weather. When we flew in, we took the train from FCO (The Leonardo Express, which cost 15 Euros each and dropped us three blocks from the hotel) and after devouring gelato and pasta for four days, caught the train from the Termini (the main train station) to the port at Civitavecchia. The only difficult part in doing this is hauling large bags up into and off the trains by yourself. The doorways are very narrow and steep, and there are several sets of daunting steps at the Civitavecchia station, with no elevators. But: if you take your time, enjoy the sunshine and go slow, you can save $100 USD in cab fares. It is also a considerable walk to the pier (where you catch a free Celebrity bus to the embarkation area), so wear walking shoes and get in shape before you try this. We started to the port from our hotel in downtown Roma about 9am and made it to the bus at the pier around 1pm, so allow time. Our experience in Rome was wonderful, and it was one of our favorites stops on the trip: around every corner you see something so amazing you just have to stand and stare. The food was wonderful, the souvenirs were cheaper than anywhere else on the cruise, and we enjoyed everything about our hotel and the city. Pics are here:
Sicily (Messina), Italy : We finally broke down and burned up our on-board credits with an excursion to Taormina. Volcanic Mount Etna and the Ionian Sea provide the backdrop for this resort town, with twisting medieval streets and a second-century Greek theater. Charming, expensive and unique. We had more good gelato, admired the narrow alleys filled with amazing balconies covered in orange trees and could not believe how blue the sea is. This was a great day trip. Messina is interesting, but the areas within walking distance around the pier are basically businesses mixed with a few (very beautiful) cathedrals and piazzas. This was a good port to take an excursion: the city is old, but has been rebuilt many times and the truly ancient places are outside the port. We both fell asleep late in the day in our cabin with the curtains on the balcony open, as the sun went down and the lights on the cathedrals began to blink on in the blue night sky. Magical. Taormina photos are here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/47965260@N02/sets/72157628093262105/