Celebrity Equinox Dining
Celebrity's heavy focus on dining means that there's an abundance of options to select from any time you feel peckish. The two fee-free standbys on offer are the main Silhouette Dining Room and a lido deck buffet called the Oceanview Cafe. There is also a second dining room, Blu, that's exclusively for use by AquaClass and suite passengers. Added-fee specialty restaurants open to all paying passengers on Equinox include the pan-Asian Silk Harvest, the Italian/American Tuscan Grille and the continental Murano Restaurant. More informal joints include the Bistro on Five, Cafe al Bacio, the Gelateria, the Mast Grill and the AquaSpa Cafe.
For dinner service, the Silhouette Dining Room -- a deceptively intimate showroom of a dining hall with lofty ceilings and numerous table configurations -- offers passengers a choice of two set meal times: early (6:15 p.m.) or late (8:45 p.m.). Those who prefer a flexible approach can opt for "Celebrity Select Dining," between 6 and 9:30 p.m. Passengers choosing the flex-dining option can pre-reserve space (online up to four days before sail date or while onboard) or walk in at any time during the allotted hours and wait for a space to open up.
Dinner menus are arranged in the traditional manner: appetizers, soups and salads followed by entrees and then desserts and cheese. Quality ingredients cooked and presented well make the main dining room experience consistently enjoyable. Expect a varied menu that changes regularly with the basics -- red meat (lamb chops provencal), poultry (jerk chicken or Cornish game hen), seafood (sesame encrusted seared ahi tuna) and vegetarian dishes (stuffed Portobello mushrooms) -- covered. If nothing on the rotating menu suffices, "always available" choices, from soups to desserts, include escargot, lobster bisque, steak, chicken and creme brulee.
Along with the chef's recommendations for each of the evening's courses, vegetarian dishes are indicated on the menu, as are gluten-free, lactose-free and no-sugar-added foods. The "Sommelier Recommends" section of the menu suggests red and white wines, by the bottle or glass; passengers without a drinks package that includes wine will pay the listed price.
Drink packages range from $7 per person, per day (soft drinks), to $54 per person, per day (soft drinks, coffee, tea, house wines, beer and some spirits); wine packages cost upwards of $99, depending on which wines are included. Passengers can bring their own wine onboard, but there's a $25-per-bottle corkage fee to drink it in the dining room -- one of the highest in cruise travel.
During sea days, the expansive Silhouette Dining Room is open seating for breakfast and lunch. During port days, however, the dining room is closed for lunch. Classic dishes like eggs Benedict and made-to-order omelets are served for breakfast. The lunch menu offers the typical soups (including a chilled soup), salads and hot entrees. Passengers can also order items like burgers from the grill.
The casual eatery, Oceanview Cafe, on Equinox's Deck 14 stays open 24 hours and serves food until 1 a.m. It functions as a multi-station buffet for breakfast and lunch, and an open-seating, casual buffet alternative to the main dining room for dinner. Oceanview gives passengers the option to plate up hot entrees, pizza and pasta (including gluten-free), sushi, Indian curries, sandwiches, extensive salad offerings, ice cream and late-night snacks, all without additional charge. Celebrity's buffet, featuring an excellent range of International cuisine and standards, is one of the best in big-ship cruising. The only minor flaw in Oceanview café's well-designed space is the hard-to-reach second row of offerings at the buffet stations. The best feature by far is the sunny, open-air deck situated at the aft section of the restaurant. The area is generally not crowded and includes patio-style eating arrangements, comfy couches and the Oceanview Bar.
Back inside Equinox, the cluster of Solstice-class alternative restaurants is located on Deck 5 (Entertainment Deck). These include Murano, serving rich French-Continental cuisine ($45); Tuscan Grille, a northern Italian steakhouse with lovely wake views ($35, try the ribeye); and Silk Harvest ($30), a pan-Asian restaurant whose decor brings to mind a mass-market Asian chain restaurant and whose food is good, though not inspired. Celebrity offers alternative dining packages, bookable in advance, that offer savings of some 20 to 30 percent off the retail price for these eateries.
Also on Deck 5, just next to the Tuscan Grille on the ship's port side, is Blu, a healthier alternative private dining room designated for passengers staying in Equinox's AquaSpa cabins. These AquaClass passengers eat free, but the venue is available to suite passengers, too, on a first-come, first-served basis and for a $5 fee. Blu's menu is similar to that of the Silhouette Dining Room, but it has fewer offerings, and the style of cuisine is slightly lighter and more healthy. Reductions are used more often than rich sauces, although our visit included a buttery crab bisque as a chef's recommendation, and the New York strip steak is a menu staple.
Believe it or not, there's more. In Equinox's indoor public hub on Deck 5 are the dual Italian threats to the waistline, Bistro on 5 and Cafe al Bacio. The dangerously delicious crepes at Bistro on 5 are easily the best value of all the for-fee specialty restaurants onboard at $5 per visit. You can choose from a variety of savory and sweet crepes, with all the usual suspects and more for fillings (ham, bacon, eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes, etc. on the savory side), and you can even build your own. If you have a chocolate craving, try the Nutella, banana and pistachio crepe served warm with whipped cream. The cover charge includes all the crepes and sides (salad, soup) one person can eat. If you want a snack rather than a meal, Cafe al Bacio serves complimentary pastries, and for-fee espresso coffees and tea, and the Gelateria across the way charges just a few dollars for gelato in a waffle cup.
Poolside, you can visit the Mast Grill for hamburgers and sausages free of charge or the AquaSpa Cafe in the adults-only Solarium, serving healthier fare (think salads) for breakfast and lunch. The cafe also offers Greek yogurt parfaits, although those cost extra.
Finally, the room service menu, which includes breakfast dishes, sandwiches, salads and snacks, is offered 24 hours a day, complimentary.