About us: Dear Husband (DH) and I are both 65. We live in northeastern Ohio. I retired last September, so this cruise was a celebration. This was our fourth cruise, second on Celebrity. We were joined by Dear Daughter (DD) and her boyfriend (BF) (J&J). They are both 40-something professionals from the Washington, D.C., area. DD is PhDiva on Cruise Critic; see her review below. It's amazing how dis-similar our experiences were.
Precruise: Because of the holiday, DH and I flew to Ft. Lauderdale on Dec. 31. We stayed at the Sleep Inn in Dania Beach, a very nice, older hotel. There is a shopping plaza across the street with 3 restaurants, and a Walgreen's across the parking lot, in case you forget something. J&J arrived New Year's afternoon. We had a huge room, but theirs was smaller than an inside cabin.
Embarkation: The hotel offers free shuttle service to the cruise terminal. We booked the noon shuttle, along with another couple from our roll call. Port Everglades has embarkation down to a science. We arrived at the terminal around 12:30 and were onboard just as they were announcing that the cabins were ready. So we stowed our carry-ons, met our steward, and headed to the Oceanview Cafe for lunch. We had time to explore a bit before muster drill. Then we met with J&J to decide on a time and meeting place for dinner and returned to our cabin with the intention of grabbing the camera and finding a place on deck to watch sailaway. However, our luggage had arrived so we were moving it into the cabin when DH asked, "Is the ship moving?" We both looked out the balcony door and, sure enough, we were pulling away from the dock. So we hurried to get the other cases inside, grabbed the camera, and went straight out onto the balcony. We took pictures and met our neighbors on both sides. Perfect timing.
The ship: The Equinox is beautiful, clean, and well cared for. We'd never been on a larger ship before, but the only time she felt crowded was when we were looking for seats in the buffet or waiting for elevators, and that's a problem for every ship we've been on. There's a lot of customized artwork all over the ship. Be sure to check out the live tree in the planter suspended between the glass elevators.
We wonder if the ship's size impacts how she handles rough weather. The seas the first sea day were quite choppy, and we felt the motion more than we had rougher seas on a smaller ship. The crew kept assuring people that they'd never experienced seas like that in that particular area (north of Cuba). They even rescheduled that evening's show out of concern for the performers' safety.
We also felt the wind on the upper decks. The second night, we went to the Sky Observation Lounge to dance, and every time a gust hit the ship, the entire room would shake and everyone would stagger around the floor.
Cabin: We had originally booked a Cat. 8 on Deck 3, but, thanks to a senior citizens' sale, were able to upgrade to a Cat. 2C AND get a refund. This was our first time for a balcony, and I spent a lot of free time out there reading, rather than looking for a lounge chair by the pool. The storage space was adequate for 2 people, although I wish there had been drawers under the sofa rather than the bins over the bed. Speaking of the bins, when we went to bed that first night, they were closed completely. When we woke up the next morning, they were opened completely. I'm glad we had nothing heavier or harder than t-shirts in there.
The bathrooms, as mentioned elsewhere, are fantastic. Best of all, there's a nightlight, something I always wish for no matter where we stay and have never before found. One caution, and I think this is true of all the cabins, the water starts at lukewarm and goes very rapidly to scalding. Be careful.
Dining: We chose select dining since J&J prefer late seating and we prefer early seating. We settled on 6:30, found a waiter we liked, and made a fixed reservation for that section. We never had to wait, and never felt rushed. In fact, sometimes service was slow, but not enough to complain about. The food was very good to excellent, and any complaints were minor, such as the soup being too salty for my taste one night.
Not so the Oceanview Cafe. We ate breakfast there every day but one, and were very disappointed. The waffles I so looked forward to were dry, as were the pancakes and French toast from the same station. The omelets were heavy. The eggs Benedict were good, freshly prepared so the insides were runny. Scrambled eggs were adequate.
Looking back, I'm surprised to realize we only had lunch in the buffet 4 times. The lunch offerings had little to no appeal. We had lunch included with 3 of our excursions, ate at the Mast Grill twice, in the MDR twice, and once at Bistro on 5. That was the best meal we had. My crepe was light and tasty, and DH had a HUGE chef's salad, well worth the $5 surcharge.
Activities: On sea days, there were 2 lecturers from the Beyond the Podium series. One was an archaeologist who is working on a dig in a Mayan village in Guatemala. The other spoke on topics such as Mayan culture, pirates, and great cruise liners of the past and present. We had lunch with him one day and he had scores of stories to share.
Some of the ship's officers also talked about everything from navigation to how to tie nautical knots. Unfortunately, there was often a conflict with another activity. There were the usual shopping talks, bingo, trivia, scrap-booking (W-A-Y overpriced), pool games, lawn games, etc.
We also attended the hot glass show one afternoon and went again one evening, but DH and I had to leave because of the wind. J&J stayed for the whole show and in the drawing afterwards, they won pieces made earlier in the cruise.
Entertainment: There have been many rave reviews posted about "Equinox, the Show," and it deserves every one. It's a Cirque Du Soleil-type show, less elaborate than the ones in a big arena but all the more impressive because the performers are on a moving platform, and the ship may jerk unexpectedly. DH and I also saw the 2 musical shows, "Limelight," a Broadway revue, and "Remix," a high-energy dance show. I felt they were both better than the average cruise show. Specialty performers from the Cirque show also participated in these two programs, adding interest and variety.
As far as individual performers, we saw only a forgettable singer and an outstanding concert pianist, Craig Dahn. He played everything from Bach to Jerry Lee Lewis, all with aplomb.
There was the usual complement of regular entertainers, a mediocre guitarist, 2 very danceable bands, a string trio that played everything from the classics to the Eagles (my kind of classic), and a wonderful a Capella group, Full Tilt. However, they are now on vacation and will be on the Millennium when they return in the spring. Hopefully they're learning some new songs.
Port and shore excursions:
Cozumel, Mexico: Ship Excursion--Tulum Mayan Ruins Express. The tour itself was long but interesting. Our guide was great and the ruins were fascinating. Celebrity included a sack lunch, which was not mentioned in the tour description.
Celebrity really blew it on transportation to and from the mainland though. The ship docks outside town, and Celebrity had chartered a ferry to take passengers who had booked tours through the ship directly from the ship to the mainland. (The seas were still rough in the morning, but that wasn't Celebrity's fault.) But when we reached Playa del Carmen, we were dumped on the main street which was lined with shops. A bunch of guides stood along the street with signs naming the various tours. No one from the ship was there to direct us. We just had to look for our sign and follow the arrows until we reaching our meeting place.
The tour was advertised us to drop us off in downtown Cozumel for shopping, and we would then be responsible for transportation back to the ship. BUT no matter how long our trip was supposed to last, we were all on the same ferry back, had no time to shop, and had to pay $7 for a taxi. Considering the way the taxis were all lined up waiting for the ferry, they were obviously expecting this. Why couldn't Celebrity save us time and money by returning us directly to the ship?
Roatan, Honduras--Ship excursion Island Tour. We traveled by bus to the Carambola Botanical Gardens, the Bird and Butterfly Garden, and the West End, where we saw a performance by the Garifuna native dancers and browsed the shops for locally-made crafts. There is also a nice shopping area by the dock, with restaurants and craft/t-shirt stores.
Puerto Limon, Costa Rica--Ship excursion Hacienda Experience. We visited the Tayutic Hacienda, a major resort. Our day tour included learning about the production of coffee, sugar cane, and macadamia nuts. We had an excellent lunch, toured the greenhouse, and early settler's cabin, and an old chapel with a fascinating history. Because everything is so far inland, this was a long bus ride, but our guide and driver have obviously developed a banter to keep the passengers entertained.
Puerto Limon is a working port, and the only shopping area is a flea market just outside the port itself. Do your shopping on your tours.
Colon, Panama: Ship excursion Grand Tour of Panama. Our bus took us to a major hotel on the former US military base. We boarded a boat for a ride on Gatun Lake. We visited an Embera native village and learned about their way of life, which has changed little since pre-Columbus days. Then we took an eco-cruise on the lake, but we only saw a few monkeys. Finally we visited the Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal. We saw one ship just exiting, one just entering, and one passing through on the other side.
I mentioned in my introduction a potentially disastrous incident. This occurred in Panama, while visiting the locks. There are viewing platforms on three different levels. I was on the middle level, taking pictures, and DH was waiting at the bottom of a short flight of stairs. When I turned around and started back down, I noticed a young man being helped up and dusted off by his friends. They quickly ran off, and I looked beyond to see DH kneeling on the ground with blood streaming down from his head. The other man had apparently missed a step, lost his balance, and knocked DH back against a wall. He left without even an apology or any expression of concern, but, of course, that's not the worst.
The worst was the 2" gash in the back of DH's head. Our tour guide, port workers and security, and a couple passengers from our tour who actually were physicians all gathered around. EMT's were summoned, and they bandaged his head and wanted to take him to the hospital. He hates hospitals and neither of us wanted to deal with a hospital in a country where we speak only courtesy Spanish. Fortunately, the doctors on the tour assured me that it was a superficial wound and the ship's doctor would be able to handle it. So I held firm and the EMT's eventually transported us back to the ship.
We were met by a nurse, and orderly with a wheelchair, and a woman from the Shore Excursions desk. (No, dear, we're not going to sue anyone.) He was taken to the Medical Facility, where the nurse cleaned his wound and I filled out paperwork. The doctor put in 6 sutures. He got a tetanus shot, a packet of penicillin tablets, prescription-strength Ibuprofen, etc. Come back the next day to have the dressing changed, the following day to have the bandage removed, and see your doctor when you get home to have the stitches removed. His primary care physician was very impressed with how well the gash healed. You really can't see the scar unless you're looking for it.
If anyone has ever wondered about the Medical Facility, I would give them 5-stars. Obviously, if he'd broken any bones or something, they couldn't have handled it, but they are well-equipped to handle minor emergencies. Even if he'd suffered a concussion, I'd prefer he be on the ship. And, yes, we had purchased trip insurance but, so far, we haven't received any bills.
DH refused to let the accident ruin his cruise, so next day, we took our tour in Cartagena. DD had booked this one independently with Dora the Explorer. We opened it to our Cruise Critic roll call, and filled 2 buses. We visited 3 Catholic churches, 2 shopping areas, did a walking tour of the old city and a bus tour of the new city. There were several photo stops. DH and another woman both needed occasional rest breaks, and Dora did a good job of allowing these without making them feel they were holding us up. I would recommend her highly if you are searching for an independent tour.
Grand Cayman--Ship excursion Discover Native Cayman and the Saltwater Forest.
We tendered here and tendering was completely disorganized. They were using two gangways. We went to one, only to be told it was closed. So we had to go back up to Deck 3, walk to the aft stairs, and go back down to Deck 2. There we were told, no you have to go back to the gangway we'd just come from. There were 3 other couples who'd been waiting for 45 minutes to get on a tender, and they were supposed to do the same. In each couple, one or more people had mobility issues. After much communication by walkie-talkie between crew members at the two gangways, we were told we could board the empty tender that was waiting there. However, we had to wait another 45 minutes until they'd loaded the other tender and sent it off. Don't you think they could have made some accommodation for physically-challenged people, even if it's a minor disability? Maybe opening some doors so we could go between the gangways without going back upstairs and down.
The tour itself was enjoyable. The group included people from the Equinox and RCCL's Grandeur of the Seas. Our half took th bus tour first. Our driver was a life-long native who knew lots of stories about the sites we passed. There's even a street named after his father. We stopped for photos at Hell and Seven-Mile Beach. Then we rode to a marina where we boarded a boat for an eco-tour of the marina's lagoon. We learned a lot about mangroves, how they reproduce, how they survive in saltwater, and their importance to the local ecology. We saw stingrays, birds, and many, many iguanas. The tour was run by three young Americans calling themselves Cayman Sea Elements. They are dedicated to mangrove preservation and offer private tours as well as those through the ship.
Service: As others have reported, Celebrity has slipped here from our last cruise. Our cabin steward was less than great the first few days. After we called housekeeping because we had no washcloths, he improved greatly. When DH needed ice bags for his head, Marcus kept them coming.
Another area where improvement is needed is in the buffet. The first few days, there was always someone to carry your plate, help you find a table, get you a drink. But then they all seemed to vanish. Even after the accident, when DH was using a cane, no one offered to assist him.
Spa and fitness: I took advantage of one of the spa specials to have a half-hour Swedish back massage, 20-minute facial, and 10-minute foot and ankle massage. This was two days after DH's accident, and I really need the back rub. I didn't know how many knots I had.
DH used the fitness center a few times. One machine was broken the whole cruise, and several machines were missing instructions. His biggest complaint was that the free weights were round and rolled away when he set them down. Can't Celebrity invest in octagonal weights?
Disembarkation: We booked airport transfers early in the cruise. Then, when it was offered, we signed up for the luggage valet program. For $20 per person, Celebrity would check you in with your airline, print your boarding passes, collect your luggage on the last night and clear it through customs and check it through to your final destination. This was a great deal. All we had to worry about were our two carry ons with our meds, computer, and clothes from the previous night. We waited in the theatre until our letter was called, then boarded a bus and were taken to the airport and sent on our merry way. That we arrived home in the middle of a snowstorm can hardly be blamed on Celebrity.
Summary: All in all, it was a great cruise. The weather was beautiful, the ports were interesting, and we enjoyed the time we spent with J&J, even though it was not as much as we'd anticipated. Celebrity has a great product and we'll definitely sail with them again if they offer the itinerary we want.
So what's the Mayan Riviera, you ask. I don't know if it's in order to capitalize on the Mayan Calendar excitement or if they've been doing this for a long time, but they call the area from the Yucatan Peninsula to Costa Rica the Mayan Riviera. Since we visited 4 Catholic churches, 5 if you count the one in Florida, and a Mayan temple, I think we'll be covered no matter what happens in December.