11-night Southern Caribbean.
Itinerary: Ft. Lauderdale, St. Thomas, St. Croix, Antiqua, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Maarten, Ft. Lauderdale
CABIN: 1625 (Aqua Class)
We’re 53 years old, married 23 years. For cuisine, I eat ... Read More
11-night Southern Caribbean.
Itinerary: Ft. Lauderdale, St. Thomas, St. Croix, Antiqua, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Maarten, Ft. Lauderdale
CABIN: 1625 (Aqua Class)
We’re 53 years old, married 23 years. For cuisine, I eat everything and my wife is a pescatarian (vegetarian and seafood). This is our 13th cruise overall, fourth on Celebrity and second on Equinox. In addition to Celebrity we’ve sailed Princess, Royal Caribbean, Disney, Holland America and NCL. We'll be sailing Virgin Voyages in 2020.
As you read through this you might think some areas are negative, but you’re paying good money to go on your cruise so I like to give a true sense of what everything was like for us. It’s very difficult to have a “bad cruise” because after all, you’re on a cruise ship being pampered day and night by the crew. The main difference between cruises is the level of service from the crew, the amount and types of activities, and the quality of the food as you compare ships. It’s primarily the level of service from the crews that make each ship experience unique and what ultimately ensures you have a great cruise.
I’m arranging this review by topic such as Embarkation, Ship, Dining, Excursions instead of by day so you can read everything about a topic at once. At the end of this review is a “Quick Tips” section for first time Celebrity Cruisers followed by the Excursions.
We always come into a port at least one day early to ensure no surprises getting to the ship. For this trip we returned to the Embassy Suites 17th Street. We’ve stayed there at a few times because while it’s dated, it is convenient to a shopping center that includes a Publix supermarket and several decent restaurants. The rooms are generously large as the hotel is older. But the hotel is not really that well cared for and at this point, we’re done with this hotel especially since we finally discovered the ease of the Water Taxi on this last trip.
The Water Taxi is inexpensive for an all-day pass and it drops you off at Los Olas Blvd. and other locations around Ft. Lauderdale as well as having a leg that goes to Hollywood. There is a Hilton Marina hotel just down 17th street from the Embassy Suites that has a Water Taxi stop right outside. The Taxi runs till 10pm so plenty of time to grab dinner and hop a ride back to the hotel.
Admittedly the Hilton does not rate much better than Embassy Suites when you look at the travel sites, but the ease of hopping the Water Taxi to explore the city is more appealing than the shopping center behind Embassy Suites. And if we need to go to the shopping center, it’s about a 15 minute walk up 17th Street.
The Embassy Suites does have a cruise shuttle, but we opted to use Lyft for the ride to the port and it was $14 for a standard Lyft. We had two full sized suitcases, a carry-on piece of luggage and two backpacks. All fit easily into the standard car and we were at the port in less than 15 minutes.
Embarkation was quite smooth thanks to the newly refurbished Celebrity Cruises Terminal 25 at Port Everglades.
One tip, when you come up the escalator after security, you’ll come into the main waiting room area. Instead of joining the bunched-up crowd at the top of the escalator, head to the far end of the waiting room where there is a second ship entrance. We found it far less crowded over there.
The audio communications in the waiting room were very difficult to understand. Anytime an announcement was made, we had to ask the workers what was being said. Celebrity would do well to install large screen TVs above the ship entrances so we can clearly see who is boarding as they run through the various levels.
We did take advantage of the digital check-in in advance having uploaded our photos so we were able to walk onboard using our boarding pass on our phones. It was such an easy boarding process without the need to stand in lines, get room keys and such. Go straight to the waiting room and then go onboard the ship when our group was called.
Immediately after boarding we were able to drop off our carry-ons in our cabin which was awesome so we could explore the ship without lugging anything around. Our cabin cards (keys) were waiting outside the cabin. A great improvement over waiting until 1pm just to be able to drop stuff off.
This was our fourth time sailing a Solstice Class ship, second time sailing Equinox, with the other two being the Silhouette and Reflection. Equinox differs from the others with the Hollywood Hot Glass show up in the Lawn Club area, formerly the Corning Museum Hot Glass Show.
Equinox went through a partial dry-dock refurbishment in March of this year. All the original planned ‘revolutionized’ changes were not completed due to an issue when a Royal Caribbean ship caused some damage at the original drydock location. Equinox had to be rescheduled for another location across the Atlantic. Due to the change of location and shorter drydock timeframe, some planned changes will not be completed until the second drydock in 2021.
She has a lot of European styling throughout, it evokes the feel of a classic ocean liner with many modern touches. Yes that is real grass up on the Lawn Club, Deck 15. It’s a fun place to gather and they have lawn games like Bocce to play. The Solarium Indoor Pool is one of the nicer indoor pools at sea.
One ‘revolutioned’ addition is the Retreat Sundeck up on Deck 15 forward reserved for Suite guests only. From what we could see there is very little shade up there, it really is a SUN deck.
Two more ‘revolutionized’ additions are the Cabanas and the large screen on the Lawn Club on Deck 15 aft. More on these later.
Aside from those two obvious changes, the only other noticeable change for those who have sailed her before would be the new carpet in Concierge Class and above cabins and the change of Silk Harvest restaurant to Le Petit Chef (at QSine).
The glass elevator areas behind the Grand Foyer on Deck 3 opens all the way up to Deck 15 allowing you to hear the bands and anything else going on all the way to the top of the ship. This is a good and a bad thing. The good is that you can be on any deck and hear the music. The bad is that if you’re just trying to play a game in the Game Room, read in the Library or work in the iLounge, the band sounds like it’s right in the room with you. The sound travels very well. Consider that when looking at the cabins directly adjacent to the rear elevators.
Most everything in terms of food and shops are laid out on Decks 3, 4 and 5. Oceanview Café (buffet) is on Deck 14 as is the Mast Grill and the Aqua Spa Café is in the Solarium Pool area on Deck 12.
CABIN: AQUA CLASS 1625
Our cabin was on Deck 11, Cabin 1625 near the aft of the ship on the port side. This cabin is part of the Aqua Class. We usually try to book an aft cabin because the vibrations from the engines helps us sleep though the vibrations were barely noticeable inside the cabin. Cabin 1625 was also very convenient to the aft stairs and elevators just a short walk away. Just one set of stairs up to the pool deck and two sets of stairs up to the Oceanview Café.
We booked the cruise while onboard the Royal Caribbean Mariner of the Seas. Yes, you can book cruises for both cruise lines while onboard an RCCL or Celebrity ship. We then had the reservation transferred to our Costco Travel Agent. We purchased the basic drink package and when the Premium package went on sale before our cruise, we upgraded to that package. Note that as of October 2019, the drink packages are going up per person. You really have to drink a lot of alcohol or coffee to make that worth it.
The cabin itself is really no different than your standard Veranda room but with some extra perks for being in Aqua Class. Such as breakfast and dinner in the Blu restaurant, flavored iced tea each afternoon, afternoon snacks and the plush robes with slippers and other accessories as well as access to the Persian Gardens in the Spa and one bottle of Champagne. Being up on Deck 11 gave our cabin plenty of protection from the sun and rain thanks to the deck 14 overhang. It was like having an extended awning over our balcony. We heard no noise at all coming from the pool deck as it was not directly above us but in front of us.
The bathroom layout in the Solstice Class ships is among the most efficient of any cruise line. The space allows plenty of room to stand at the sink with the arrangement of the shower and toilet. There are plenty of cabinets and shelf space and even the trash can is tucked away. The Aqua Class provided an enhanced shower with additional body jets to go with the standard overhead shower. The shower controls are really nice with the water pressure and hot/cold controls separated so if you need to turn off the water during your shower, it comes right back on at the same temperature as when you turned it off. The shower is small, but functional and includes sliding glass doors so you don’t have to worry about shower curtains sticking to you during a shower.
Inside the cabin there is a decent-sized closet, but the dresser / drawer space is somewhat limited, just four drawers. A trick learned from a fellow Celebrity traveler is using 12” x 12” collapsible cubes placed in the cabinet above the bed. This cabinet can easily hold 8 of these cubes and we’ll put our underwear, socks, t-shirts and other stuff in there. Note that those cabinets above the bed are scheduled to be removed as part of the revolution so they may disappear after the 2021 drydock.
Another great tip is to get a wall hanging, canvas shoe rack and hang that on the bathroom door. We’ve used that for most every cruise we’ve been on.
Our room steward, Jonathan, was among the best we’ve ever sailed with. His attention to detail and going out of his way to stop what he was doing to unlock our door for us was above and beyond.
The Equinox has two pools, one outdoor and the Solarium indoor pool.
The main pool on Deck 12 is split into two halves by a walkway over the center. There is covered seating up underneath the Deck 14 walkway on either side. The back of the pool area features some oversized round padded seats and there are some padded loungers tucked between the ‘sails’ on either side of the pool area.
The Solarium indoor pool is air conditioned and features padded loungers on wooden frames. They can be a bit uncomfortable for a long day at the pool and the backs do not come up very high. Reading on these loungers can be a bit more difficult if you like to basically sit up while reading. But it is lovely sitting in cooler comfort vs. baking in the sun.
Pools are open late on Celebrity, as late as 10pm on most days. We enjoy the occasional after dinner soak and swim, the nighttime lighting is especially pretty in the pool area.
COCKTAILS & COFFEE
Cafe Al Bacio / Gelateria
The Cafe Al Bacio is always very busy due to the normally great coffee and tea drinks they provide. I say ‘normally’ because for the first time in four cruises on Celebrity, the baristas on this cruise were disappointing. They seemed to favor speed over quality of the drinks. Some drinks were lukewarm, I had two cappuccinos that barely filled one third of the cup, Americanos that tasted like they were the last coffee dregs in the pot two hours ago. Actually the coffee flavor overall was much more bitter than on previous cruises, it tasted like they are using a much lower quality coffee blend than in the past.
But there was no consistency and never a really good cup of coffee from this barista crew. Until now this has been a solid go-to coffee spot for me and one of the reasons we go with a drink package since my coffees are included. This cruise, the crew simply wasn’t cutting it and it wasn’t worth the aggravation after a while to be bothered with them. I also noticed that the Mocha drink tasted off and saw that they’re using a chocolate powder instead of chocolate syrup to make it now.
My wife always gets iced tea here as they have a wide variety of teas to choose from. The brand of tea is still the same and they still have the wide variety of flavors.
The Gelateria was quite sad. Nothing like when we first started sailing Celebrity four or five years ago. The inside of the case was always wet with moisture, the gelatos were melting and simply did not look inviting. The gelato sandwiches were especially sad. Not much filling and again they were melting and looked wet from the case. First time sailing Celebrity we skipped this altogether because we didn’t see anything worth paying extra money for. We didn’t even want the free scoop of gelato that came with being in the Captain’s Club.
World Class Bar
Most reviewers will rave about the Martini Bar and the “show” but we much prefer the World Class Bar on Deck 5. The only place on board where you can get a really good cocktail. They only make a limited number of cocktails that are displayed in the menus, but they are incredibly delicious. On this cruise, Jay was the master mixologist and continually made the best Old Fashioned for me each night. Note that this is a rum based Old Fashioned, not bourbon or whiskey. My second favorite drink was the Johnnie Walker Citrus Gold. We would have one or two drinks before the 7pm show, then grab another after the show to talk to dinner. If you like a really good drink, sample the World Class Bar.
This was a disappointment for us as Celebrity opted not to open this bar at all during our cruise. It was supposed to be open on Sea Days, but never did. These are essentially alcoholic milkshakes and this was our afternoon treat on the other ships.
Lovely view looking aft on the ship, often a great place to meet and mingle with other guests as it’s always hopping. They make a decent Margarita on the rocks. Smoke can be prevalent as there is a large smoking section on the Port side.
We never use assigned dining for any of our cruises (except Disney because it’s required) and on this cruise we had the option to use Blu as our main dining room as it comes with the Aqua Class cabins.
Note that on the first night of most sailings, Celebrity offers 30% off specialty dining for that first evening’s meal. You’ll usually find the folks outside the buffet area ready to take your reservation. Also look out for specials as the cruise goes along. For the final four or five nights of our 11-night cruise, they were offering 2 for 1 specials to dine.
For breakfast you have four options depending on what you feel like that day.
Aqua Spa Café in the Solarium pool area.
Oceanview Café (buffet).
Main Dining Room (or Blu or Luminae if you’re in those categories).
Café Al Bacio (Deck 5)
The buffet and main dining rooms will offer a full breakfast while the Aqua Spa Café offers a healthy alternative and Café Al Bacio offers sweets and continental items.
AQUA SPA CAFE (in the Solarium Pool area, Deck 12 Forward)
If you’re in the mood for something light and (yes) healthy, for breakfast, visit the Aqua Spa Café in the Solarium. ANYONE can eat here, it’s not a paid extra for Spa users, all guest onboard can partake of the light fare they offer such as avocado toast, bagels with peanut butter and fruit, fruit plates and breakfast bars. For an additional fee they also make smoothies, fresh pressed juices and a few other items, but the coffee, tea and the items put out each day are free for all guests. If you have the Premium Drink Package the Smoothies are included, I enjoyed the Antioxidant smoothie.
SILHOUETTE DINING ROOM
We only had one dinner here when we joined some fellow passengers after an excursion. The service was exceptional as always, but the food was meh. The starters were not bad, but my “rigatoni with prosciutto and crème sauce” was literally devoid of flavor. I could have ordered something else, but my wife was less than enamored with her entrée as well. As I knew this would be only meal in here, we just let it slide as we very much enjoyed the company of new friends.
BLU Restaurant (Aqua Class only)
Our first-time having access to this restaurant and we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of food, especially the starters. Breakfast here is a combination of traditional eggs and the like along with some healthy choices.
For dinners, we ended up ordering 2 or 3 starters because they sounded, and tasted, so good. The entrees were generally good to incredible. Blu was the most consistently good dining experience we’ve had on Celebrity for a ‘main dining room.’ Hostess Marianna was simply incredible, always smiling and always ready to accommodate our requests. Wayne and the entire staff inside Blu were impeccable in their service from the first meal to the last.
Note that if you are in Aqua Class, the Blu Host can book your reservations for any of the restaurants on board. You can also ask if they are offering any specials for the restaurants.
SUSHI ON 5
Sushi on 5 continues to improve each time we eat there. The rolls are completely on par with some of our regular sushi restaurants at home. First off for a vegetarian, it may not be worth it. Check the menu before you book to see if you even want to eat there. If you eat seafood, there are plenty of options and they are quite good. I honestly can’t remember the rolls as we had two or three of them, but they were all good. This is an ala-carte menu so you pay about US market value for the sushi. We didn’t find it priced much differently than the many sushi restaurants we visit around Atlanta.
TAJ MAHAL INDIAN DINNER
This was a special dinner offered one night on the ship and on our sailing it was a $40/pp charge. The dinner was held inside Sushi On 5 and featured an incredible selection of Indian Dishes. The menu will most likely vary with each sailing, but our dinner consisted of samplings from everything on the menu. Anything we wanted more of, they would bring it out. Some of the dishes included Samosas, Dal Tadka, Palak Paneer, Aloo Gobi, Butter Chicken, Hriyali Jhinga with Mango Salad (Shrimp), Murgh Tikka (Chicken), Chicken Cafreal. We joined another couple to make it a party of four and absolutely LOVED this meal. Celebrity is known for good Indian food in the buffet, but this was a step above what you get there. Well prepared, well seasoned, more spice and kick on a few dishes. So glad we spotted this dinner in our app prior to boarding. Note that as of our sailing, this dinner was only offered on sailings longer than 7 days.
OCEANVIEW CAFE (Buffet and Ice Cream)
This is a really good buffet as far as cruise standards go. A quick tip, there is a second Café Al Bacio on the port side of the ship as you enter the Café. Coffee only, they don’t have the specialty teas, but if you want a cappuccino or latte, you can get it right there. It’s also a full service bar.
For breakfast the buffet does not really change. One thing I love at breakfast, and it’s my guilty pleasure on Celebrity, is the Fried Toast in the English Breakfast section. Add a slice of cheese, maybe a slice of ham, place a poached egg on top and you have a great egg on toast.
For lunch and dinner, be sure to walk around the entire buffet at lunch and dinner as those do have some great variations. There can be some unique items are tucked away in a place you might not expect. Celebrity is known for the Indian cuisine in the buffet and it’s quite good. Not as spicy as you might get in a restaurant which makes it a perfect place to explore the cuisine if you’ve never had it. Throughout the cruise they will have theme nights to honor cuisines from Mexico, Italy, India and others.
For the most part, breakfast, lunch and dinner, this buffet really hits the spot with outstanding dishes, with a few misses of course, like the pizza. Their dough still tastes like flour even after its baked.
For salad, they have a very good salad bar, two actually, and most lunches I would put together a nice salad starting out at the salad bar and then adding either cold cuts or some of the hot meats to the top. You can make a great taco salad adding beef, onions and cheese sauce from the Mexican station for example. One day they had wonderful fajita style beef and I laid that on my salad.
One area that you can really see the cutbacks from our first sailing 4 or 5 years ago to today is the cheeses, both in the buffet and all around the ship. Celebrity used to have a wheel of blue cheese out on the buffet for most all lunches and dinners. That was completely absent on this cruise except for the Italian lunch. And the cheeses that were out there, cheddar, provolone and others just didn’t have much flavor. They’re clearly using much cheaper cheeses than they used to and it really shows in the lack of flavor. Small thing I know, but the high-quality cheese is one thing that used to separate Celebrity from the other cruise lines.
The desserts are VERY hit or miss, especially the cakes. They look great but oftentimes don’t have much flavor or they’re dry. One of our favorite desserts were found during “Mexico Day” when they had a dessert bar of churros, tres leches cake and other Mexican desserts. Those were great.
The free ice cream is not bad and you really can’t complain about it because it’s free. Read Less