Transatlantic: Making the Crossing in Aqua Class Style on Equinox: Celebrity Equinox Cruise Review by lexmiller

Celebrity Equinox 5
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Transatlantic: Making the Crossing in Aqua Class Style on Equinox

Sail Date: April 2013
Destination: Transatlantic
Embarkation: Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)
This was our 6th cruise with Celebrity, our first Trans-Atlantic. Next Trans-Atlantic, we will go the OTHER way, but, that was our issue, not Celebrity's! We often joked as we cruised east, moving the clock forward one hour, 6 separate times, losing an hour each time, that hey!, we should be getting a refund from Celebrity, because 6 hours, for the 4 of us in our family, comes out to a total of 24 hours LOST, that's one full day - haha! Anyway, yes, that was our inside joke. So, to fly to Europe, then cruise west back home, would have given us 24 hours EXTRA, (just kidding, but hey, depends on how you look at it!!) plus, it would have eliminated any jet lag issues here at home - it's always easier to deal with jet lag at the beginning of a vacation when everything is fun and exciting, but back home, waking up at 2am for a full week before your body clock adjusts, is definitely not fun.

We had sailed on Equinox in August of 2011 in the Med so it was great to be back More onboard. She is a beautiful ship, a wonderful crew. The captain was the same captain that we sailed with on Summit this past October in the Caribbean. It was great to hear his familiar voice, and to see him often in the public areas, nearly every day. I suppose that a Trans Atlantic cruise is very simple for the captain - just set the auto pilot due east in this case, for 7 days and relax! But, seriously, it was great to see the captain so often, as well as many other of the senior officers. It is always nice to see the officers out and about with the passengers - makes us feel welcome and also that the crew is involved. I once saw the Hotel Director officer walking about the ship and her keen eye flew to a VERY minor issue with the flooring - she was on top of it, clearly concerned and taking ownership of even the most minor of irregularities.

We sailed in Aqua Class, 2 cabins - one for my husband and I and one for 2 of our adult children - our daughter is mobility challenged so they were in a handicapped accessible room. The handicapped facilities on the Solstice Class ships are TOP NOTCH. We do not cease to be impressed every cruise we take with Celebrity on Solstice Class ships. The accessible cabins are much larger than the regular cabins to allow for the equipment that the person with the disability must use. The veranda door is ramped on both sides and the veranda itself is considerably longer than the regular verandas, to allow for walkers and/or wheelchairs. The bathrooms are larger and also ramped, but ramped in the floor so you don't see it. The shower, which is large and has a built in chair which flips out of the way for a non physically disabled co-passenger, drains into a slanted floor drain, and in case the water swooshes around the bathroom floor, there is a several foot long drain in the floor before the bathroom door, so there is zero chance of flooding. There is a telephone in the bathroom next to the toilet as well as an emergency pull cord to notify medical of any problem. The door to your handicapped accessible cabin opens automatically, so when you swipe your Seapass Card into your lock, the door automatically opens, and when you have to leave your cabin, you just press the automatic button - so there are no heavy doors to open. Throughout all Solstice Class ships, every single public bathroom door has an automatic open button, and the handicapped accessible stalls also have an auto open door, with a very simple lock inside. A fantastic system! Plus, all public areas have auto open doors onto the decks, with no step up or step down - the ship is perfectly designed for people with mobility issues. Not so the Millennium Class ships, but those are much older. Clearly, the services of a disability consultant were engaged when the Solstice Class ships were designed.

The crew is VERY attuned to the needs of people with physical disabilities. In Blu, not once did we ever need to move our daughter's walker - we would be escorted to our table, and the maitre d or the server would take her walker away for us; they would get angry, in a cute endearing way, if we tried to do it ourselves! Also, upon exiting the vessel at the ports of call, members of the housekeeping staff are stationed at the gangways to help people with physical needs disembark. I will say however that on this cruise, we did have a mishap - let me preface with saying that my daughter is ok! - we were leaving the ship for a ship sponsored shore excursion in Tenerife to Loro Park. As we pinged out through security, a member of the housekeeping staff approached and asked if he could help us. Now, right there, that was a difference, because usually, the housekeeping staff member insists on helping - plus, this guy was, hmmmm, how shall I say - not the image of strapping youthful vigor that the majority of the staff is that are posted at the gangways to help with wheelchairs, in my experience. So through my mind, a lightning bolt of caution flashed, but I thought, nah, what could go wrong, plus, the gangway was not very steep as we were disembarking on a lower deck. Well, this poor guy did not realize how little strength he actually possessed because after grasping the wheelchair handles, he almost immediately lost control, letting go of the chair, sending my daughter careening into the gangway screen, the wheelchair hitting the support bar and though she was fine and the chair did not upend, key parts of the chair actually bent rendering it unusable. This, however, that it was not usable, was not apparent to us until we reached Loro Park, the destination of our shore excursion - it took us nearly an hour there before we were settled in with a power scooter rental(EURO)(EURO)..details of that you can read on my shore excursion review elsewhere on Cruise Critic. In the end, all's well that ends well, but this was a strange blip in our otherwise stellar experience with the unparalleled service surrounding disabilities onboard Celebrity ships.

As I mentioned, the four of us had two Aqua Class cabins, but not next to each other, so we ended up with two different cabin steward teams. It was very interesting to see if there were any differences in service delivery, but other than variations in towel art, both cabin teams were excellent. We always had amply stocked soaps/shampoos, lots of towels, fresh flowers, water bottles - all was up to snuff and then some!

As I mentioned, we sailed Aqua Class, our preferred way to sail, not that we have anything against the Main Dining Room, but we have found that the food in Blu tends to be way above average plus we love the experience of having a specialty dining room that is INCLUDED. Also, every single table in Blu has a great view of the sea, the shore - whatever happens to be outside the window at the time; plus, we usually time our meals so that we always get a table directly at the window. But, like I said, every table has a view. Also, the flexibility of dining in Blu is HUGE - there is no first or second seating, no reservation time, no need to plan like with the select dining plan, no additional charge for a specialty restaurant - Blu IS a specialty restaurant, one which exists exclusively for the use of Aqua Class passengers. You go anytime you want to go, it's as easy as that! The food is excellent (though not without it's flaws, like a need to please "Middle America" by overcooking the fish - we learned to always order it med-rare otherwise it will be overcooked) and funny thing - I have met quite a few people that say, "Oh, you're Aqua Class, that means you eat in that 'health food' restaurant, where all of the food is 'healthy and low fat'." First, as if that is a bad thing??? But, truly, that isn't even true! Food in Blu is superior, and there are many healthful offerings - but there are plenty of full fat offerings as well! How low fat, exactly, does steak tip and gorgonzola risotto - a main dish offering in Blu - sound? I think there are quite a few people that don't have the right idea about Blu.

And, while I'm at it, what about Concierge Class - WHY anyone would sail that, other than to have a different colored SeaPass card, is beyond me! Maybe people of a "certain generation" attach a connotation to the word "concierge" that smacks of elitism whereas "aqua class" sounds somehow, well, to reuse the word "healthy" but also very "spa-like" - and people of this "certain generation" are afraid and unfamiliar with such? But beyond which, that's not even the point! The fact is that Aqua Class gets everything Concierge gets - canapes in your cabin every day, a bottle of bubbly upon check in, flowers and fruit in your room daily, free bottled water daily - but you get MORE with Aqua Class because you get your own personal specialty restaurant! Plus, you get to use the Persian Garden in the spa at no charge, other things like that, though that to us is of little consequence. The main perk, and it's a huge one, is Blu. Well, let the misunderstanding about Aqua Class persist because that means that for us when we book there will still be Aqua Class cabins available!

In the Captain's Club, the Celebrity version of 'frequent flyer miles', we are ranked elite, currently the highest tier, which gives us certain perks - yes, perks for us, and about 700 other passengers on board! On this cruise, each elite ranked passenger received 3 drink coupons per night, to be used between 5-7 pm in most cocktail lounges on board, excluding the Molecular and Martini Bars. We personally absolutely prefer the coupons over the former elite cocktail party usually held in Michael's Club, as with the coupons, you can imbibe where you want - the flexibility is definitely fantastic! We also received 90 minutes of free internet for the cruise, which is fantastic - we logged on every day and downloaded our local newspaper, the "Boston Globe", onto our iPad. This was especially great for us as we were sailing during the time of the tragic Boston Marathon terrorism attack, so it was helpful for us to stay connected by reading our local paper every day. You just always have to remember to log off the Celebrity server - not just turn off your device but to actually log off the Celebrity server.

We missed my personal favorite onboard event, which is the wine and cheese on the lawn, which was held this cruise at the sail away from Tenerife. We had to miss it because we got back on board very last minute, and there just wasn't enough time to make it to the wine and cheese lawn event. All aboard was 5:45pm, but the wine and cheese event began at 5pm - usually, the wine and cheese event is held a bit later in the evening, and in a port when all aboard is a bit sooner. However, with the weather being cool, etc, I know there were not many options - sad for me, as this is my favorite event! We did this on other cruises as we sailed away from Istanbul and once sailing away from Santorini, to name two - there is nothing like a sail away from an exotic port, laying on a blanket on the grass (actual REAL GRASS on a SHIP, so cool!!) with pillows, drinking wine, eating cheese and listening to the onboard guitarist serenading the gathered relaxing passengers!

Entertainment on board was diverse and of the high quality that you expect from Celebrity. I do however continue to wonder why the on board acapella group never performs more than 15 min at a time, and usually no more than twice a day, sometimes but rarely, three! I've read speculations on this website as to the reason, but I'm sure that it's all about the contract, as no other reason makes sense!? The onboard Equinox theater entertainers are super talented, singing and dancing through three major and I mean MAJOR, production shows - gorgeous costumes, Broadway worthy scenery, a full onboard live orchestra; one of the shows is straight out of Cirque du Soleil, a Celebrity signature, though the show on each ship is different, and is changed periodically to varying degrees. On this cruise there was a contestant from Top Chef Season 5 giving cooking lessons. There were several comedians; a fantastic singer from London's West End who starred as Jean Valjean for two years; a Celtic opera singer; a pianist and on and on. The Activities Staff was, I thought, particularly engaging - we had a great time participating in the flashmob class, where we were taught a version of the Gangnam Style dance by Faye of the Activities Staff - we practiced every sea day and then performed the flashmob once by the pool one afternoon and again in the Grand Foyer the following evening. Of course there were many trivia engagements, though for us perhaps the most fun was "Gender Wars", a progressive game which ran over the course of several nights in the Entertainment Court, when it was all out fist to cuffs, good natured of course, men vs women. Another favorite was "Liar's Club" which is a game show variant of the board game Balderdash and also the Celebrity classic "Newly-Wed - Not so Newly-Wed Game". Then of course there is the gym, ballroom dancing classes and zumba - the onboard zumba instructor was one of the Activities Staff people, Nick, who is a certified zumba instructor - he was terrific, actually getting us all to move - he wasn't teaching what I call "remedial zumba", he actually got everyone moving. And I am only scratching the surface - there was so much to do that after the first 4 sea days, we were actually exhausted!!, and we had to stop doing some of the activities! I didn't have time to open my book until I made a conscious decision to relax and disengage from some of the activities - that's a pretty fantastic thing to say - Celebrity does a fabulous job with what they call "Celebrity Life Activities", they really do! We have always found that the more involved you are, the more people you meet, the more fun you have!

We were very excited about the mix of sea days and ports of call on this cruise. We were particularly anticipating the passage through the Strait of Gibraltar - how thrilling to navigate the waters dividing the Med from the Atlantic, to think about the days of Pangea when "The Rock" of Gibraltar split apart, etc! Shore excursion offerings were very good - we personally booked a mix of ship excursions and private excursions. In Nassau, we booked Dolphin Encounters on Blue Lagoon Island for a dolphin swim, through the ship. On the islands of Tenerife and Lanzarote in the Canary Islands we booked ship excursions - to Loro Park and the Camel Ride and Fire Mountain, respectively. In Lisbon and Gibraltar, we booked private tours for just the four of us, which we enjoyed very much, booking with Different Portugal Tours and Gib Tours, respectively - both outstanding and professional private tour companies, which we highly recommend.

The passage through the Strait of Gibraltar was well timed by the captain, commencing at approximately 9:30am. We stationed ourselves on Deck 15 where we could easily jump from side to side, taking countless photos of the African side, the European side, back and forth. It was a beautiful morning, sunny, albeit windy and cool. Touring Gibraltar was very special, considering it's history and it's strategic geographic location with it's varied and turbulent political background. With the WWII tunnels and the Great Siege tunnels, there are more roads IN "The Rock" than outside of it!

This itinerary had a sea day as the final day - always a great thing when that happens as then you don't have to pack in the evening, etc, rather, you can enjoy your day, pack leisurely, enjoy the final evening onboard. Disembarkation, like nearly everything on the cruise, went very smoothly. We look forward to our next cruise with Celebrity! (only a few months away!) Less

Published 05/17/13

Cabin review:

Port and Shore Excursions

City Tour

We had one day to see as much of Gibraltar as possible during our stop on our Celebrity Cruises day in port. Months in advance, I booked a private day tour for my family with Gib Tours, and I am so happy that we did! Elisa was our guide - born and raised in Gibraltar, a true life long local, and wow, did we reap the benefits of her intimate knowledge of the area. She picked us up at the port - her friendliness, her humor, her inner joy, were immediately apparent and we knew that we were in for a great day. I don't think there is much that we didn't see! The roads on "The Rock" are narrow, winding, blind - on some of the more treacherous roads, Elisa would play the theme from "Mission Impossible" on the van stereo to heighten the effect! She provided us with a running commentary the whole day, filled with lots of information and humor. Our adult daughter is mobility impaired and Elisa made sure that she always got us as close to the entrances of the attractions as possible. She physically helped load/unload, the walker and the wheelchair, bungee-cording them into place in the back of the van - she was incredibly helpful and empathic. Elisa is plugged into the local scene - on the narrow roads, when you have to pull over to let another car pass - well, she knew everyone, all of the other taxi drivers, tour guides, sharing friendly exchanges with everyone - we really felt like we were a part of the local scene. She even knows the names of the most social of the apes on the island. She knows the primatologists that look after the apes and she has a way that she interacts with the apes, professionally, as though she is actually a bonafide trainer - she knows the proper and safe way to engage them - I can't tell you how many photos we have of them, one of which stayed on our daughter's arm for a good 5 minutes! One of the apes hopped into the van and sat on Elisa's lap for a time, looking down her shirt for seeds - it was fantastic! We had a very individualized tour of the WW2 tunnels, only 5 people in the tour - such a moving experience! Hans was our guide within the tunnels - very very knowledgeable guide! There are more tunnels in "The Rock" than roads on the island itself. You must see the tunnels when you visit! Elisa took us to St. Michael's Cave - breathtaking; the 100 ton gun; the highest point on "The Rock"; Europa Point - the southern most point of continental Europe; O'Hara's Battery; the Great Siege Tunnels. We also drove across the airstrip, very interesting spot though we wished that an airplane had been crossing the road at the time! She took us, pretty much, everywhere! She gave us a full tour, backroads, not always the main streets, different neighborhoods, beaches, telling us stories of her childhood, etc. She gave us a full history of the peninsula, going back to Pangea, discussing the breaking apart of "The Rock", the Atlantic spilling into what is now the Mediterranean Sea. Gibraltar is an amazingly unique place, geographically, historically, politically, strategically - and in our opinion, the best way to experience it is with Gib Tours.

Timanfaya National Park

We visited Timanfaya National Park as a shore excursion through our cruise on Celebrity Equinox. The landscape is like nothing I have ever seen - volcanic lava floes frozen in time, so hard to describe! We have Lanzarote artist and apparent Renaissance Man, as there was nothing that he couldn't do, Cesar Manrique, to thank for the design of this park - the building of the roads and the caveat that only buses can drive on them, thereby restricting access and preserving the natural beauty of this very fragile environment. The park center building is beautiful - love the demonstrations, including the chicken cooking on the volcanic grill! The images, the history of the eruptions, the rugged unique beauty of the desolate surroundings - will stay with me always. The camel ride itself was great fun! It lasted about 25 minutes. We were very happy that the guides took photos with our camera for us, for everyone, which is very helpful - a small tip was appreciated. Also, and I don't know if this was only because it was a cruise ship excursion that we were on, but there is a man along the camel route that takes photos with his camera - then, back on our tour bus later in the tour after we visited a winery, the photos that he took had been printed and they were distributed on the bus at a cost of 5 Euro per photo, if we wanted them. They were actually pretty good, not the best quality, but since this was such a unique experience, not something we do everyday here in Boston, I was happy to buy one of the shots. The camels seem to be treated very well. Later in the day, we were lucky to see them all heading home, led in groups by their handlers - they walk "to work" mid morning and "walk home" mid afternoon, their days are not too long. Though they seemed not unhappy to carry us on our tour, they seemed jubilant when they were walking back home - light on their feet, at almost the pace of a jog! Who isn't happy to go home after a day of work? Timanfaya National Park cannot be missed on a trip to Lanzarote! And be sure to make time for the camel ride!

City Tour

We had one day to experience as much as possible of Lisbon on our Celebrity Cruises day in port, so after much research, I contacted Filipe of Different Portugal Tours, and we are so glad that we did! From our first warm email exchange which made me feel like I had always known him, as if we were old friends, I knew that we were going to experience a fabulous day. Filipe picked us up at the port and our adventure began. There were four of us in my family doing this private tour, our adult daughter having physical challenges. I had told Filipe about this of course in advance, and he told us that we could easily bring her walker and wheelchair with us in the tour van, and he even planned out in advance which walking aid would probably be best for her at each stop. He always got us very near the entrances, and was very helpful in general supporting her needs. Throughout the day as we toured, Filipe kept up a running commentary about cultural and historical facts, as well as interesting friendly conversation. Not only did we visit national highlights but we also went to several cafes sampling local delights. One of our first stops was in Sintra at Cafe a Piriquita where we fell in love with the local pastry called travesseiros - a MUST if you visit, but most surely, Filipe will take you there! Warm "big pillows" of creamy, flaky deliciousness! We also went to a local cheese/wine shop where the shop keeper gave us several samples of cheeses, chorizo, port and liqueurs. We went to the Pena Palace in Sintra, spending nearly two hours there - so beautiful, remarkable, memorable. We also went to Roca Cape, the western most part of continental Europe - scenic, and on this day, extremely windy! There wasn't much time for lunch, with so much to see and so little time, so Filipe stopped at a food truck and got us chorizo calzones, though I don't think they were called calzones - delectable! Food trucks here in the USA are very popular, the new gourmet venues, but I have had nothing like this. The bread is baked fresh daily from scratch, on the truck, and the sausage, wow, so tasty, fresh, no gristle or nasty bits. The bread itself was dense, almost like sourdough but not exactly, crusty on the outside, baked perfectly - rustic, unaffected, just plain delicious! Once he determined that we had no food allergies or restrictions, Felipe always did all of the ordering - he knows his food! We drove through Cascais, saw Guincho Beach. We visited Belem and spent time inside Jeronimos Monastery Cathedral. Our final food stop was Pasteis de Belem - oh, how can one describe these gastronomic jewels? The cafe is in the actual bakery built in the early 1800s by the monks - fascinating to see - you can watch the process of baking - there are labyrinthine rooms, all with beautiful old tile - a great visit, historic, amazing local pastries! Our final stop was at the Discoveries Monument, which is truly breathtaking. It was on the cover of one of my textbooks in grammar school and I definitely never thought that I would ever get to see it in person. Filipe plans the day very well for cruise passengers, going to the furthest destinations first so that in case of traffic, there would never be any stress getting back to the ship on time. For instance, the Discoveries Monument is so close to the port that one could, if one had to, walk back to the ship! Our day in Lisbon with Filipe of Different Portugal was fun, informative, delicious, memorable! We hope that someday he will visit us in Boston and we can return the favor!

Blue Lagoon Dolphin Swim

We went to Blue Lagoon Island, booking the dolphin swim, not the dolphin encounter, through our ship, Celebrity Equinox, as a shore excursion. The cost was only $10 more to book it directly through the ship than it would have cost on our own, and it made the transportation piece to and from the island a bit easier for us this way. We had a fantastic day! Blue Lagoon's boat picked up our group at the cruise terminal. It was a relatively short but very scenic and enjoyable ride to the island. The mansions that are along the waterway are really something to see from the water! The staff at Blue Lagoon is friendly, informative, helpful, guiding us from the boat to the educational area where we learned more about dolphins, environmental concerns, and the plan for the day ahead. The swim groups are kept small, ours had only 10 people. Our daughter has mobility issues, and the staff was extremely helpful. We knew that she would not be able to do the foot push, but we still wanted to do the swim over the encounter. We were in the water with the dolphins for nearly an hour - it was absolutely fantastic, truly something that we will always remember. The foot push was a highlight, for sure, but simply being there, swimming with them, being "kissed" by them, holding their flippers and dancing with them , and so much more, it was truly remarkable. After our swim, we viewed the video that was taken of our group and it was so good that we had to get it - and we never buy these things, but when will the members of my family ever do something like this again, and to have it all captured on a professional dvd - ya, had to get it! In fact, we ended up buying the whole package, the prints and the USB drive - that is great, because then we can download ALL of the photos that they took of us, and there were A LOT, onto our own computer, and add them directly to our personal vacation digital book. There was no pressure at all to buy any of this, we just wanted to, as truly, this was a very unique experience. The shuttle boats back to our cruise ship left every 1 - 2 hours, so we opted to stay on the island and take one of the later shuttle boats. We enjoyed our time, playing baggo, swinging in the hammocks, getting some food - very relaxing, enjoyable! The beaches are lovely - I recommend the one that is away from all of the water toys, on the other side of the island from the water toys beach, still very close, but seems far away as it is very quiet and seems secluded. It's more of an adult beach, where you can experience the natural beauty of the island. Lovely day!

Loro Park

We booked this excursion through our cruise ship, Celebrity Equinox. What a fantastic afternoon at Loro Park - although the day for us did not begin so auspiciously - long story, but our daughter has mobility issues, and her ship-owned wheelchair was accidentally broken by a ship employee who was trying to "help" us off the ship - he thought he was stronger than he is and he lost control of the wheelchair heading down the gangway! She was fine, thank goodness, but the wheelchair broke, the plastic bending (I've never seen plastic bend like that!). We should have gotten a new chair from the ship immediately, but we were not aware of the extent of the damages until we arrived at Loro Park and realized that the chair was unusable! My daughter cannot walk at all on her own, so a vacation disaster was averted by our excellent shore excursion tour guide and the very helpful staff at Loro Park. They were able to get a power scooter for her - I don't know how they pulled this off as it was noon time, which means late by park attendance standards and it was quite crowded - so to have a scooter available, when you have to reserve one in advace - well, I believe they pulled something off on our behalf and we are so grateful. So, once we were finally able to go mobile, we carefully planned our afternoon, as after the mobility debacle, we only had 4.5 hours to see this magnificent park! We looked at the show schedule and the map and planned our time strategically. We saw the sea lion show, the dolphin show and the orca show! WOW, all were fantastic!!!! There is a synergy between the sea creatures and their trainers, a mutual respect, you can just feel it. The Penguinarium is like nothing I have ever seen - snow falls from the ceiling; there is a snow slide for the penguins to slide down; the walkway for the people moves around the huge penguin enclosure so all you have to do is stand on it and it takes you around so you see everything, even under the water, so that you see the penguins swimming beneath the surface! The entire park itself is very very clean and exceptionally well maintained. We loved the enclosed bird area as you walk in, climb high, as though you are Tarzan walking in the upper branches of the trees, but on walkways - you get within inches of beautiful colorful birds! When you enter the park, a photo is taken of your group with two huge birds on their perches - it only cost 6 Euro, and it turned out beautifully, so we had to buy it! We highly recommend Loro Park, we would love to return and spend more time there!

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