I'll start this review as I have started all of my previous ones, with a bit of an introduction:
My wife and I do 2-3 cruises a year, nearly all of them with Celebrity. We are 30 & 26 years old respectively, and have sailed the ... Read More
I'll start this review as I have started all of my previous ones, with a bit of an introduction:
My wife and I do 2-3 cruises a year, nearly all of them with Celebrity. We are 30 & 26 years old respectively, and have sailed the Caribbean a half-dozen times. I will be writing this with the target audience of "First Timers" and will hope to shed some light on what we enjoy, and don't enjoy about cruising with Celebrity, and on the beautiful Equinox.
Why this cruise?
My wife is a school teacher, so we take a 7 day cruise every year on her Spring Break. We don't have bitter winters here in Central Alabama, but the end of March is the perfect time to hop down into the beautiful weather that the Caribbean offers year-round. We started off cruising Carnival years ago, but ultimately made the jump to Celebrity as we wanted something more sophisticated and relaxing. We don't like to be charged for every single item on a cruise, so we love that Celebrity allows us to go for the "all inclusive" package. We book through a wonderful Travel Agent who only does cruises. We went on board with a drink package, prepaid tips (paid by TA), and $450 on board credit. With Celebrity, the OBC can be used to book excursions, specialty restaurants, on board shopping, or virtually anything else you buy on board. Frankly, its one of the main reasons we sail with Celebrity. All in all, we got a beautiful Concierge Class Balcony and all the perks for well under $3000 for the entire trip. We brought about $500 US in cash for port spending and tipping on board.We have found that, with all of the inclusions, its really hard to beat Celebrity on price. Add in the service and the wonderful food, and its a no-brainer for us. We also have been fortunate enough to have my parents join us for each of the last three spring break cruises. Its wonderful to be on any cruise ship, but even better when you can spend the time with family. My parents being older, do not want a "party cruise". Celebrity offers a wonderful atmosphere that allows everyone to have a great time but not at the expense of others.
After having sailed on her twice, it comes as zero surprise that the Equinox wins "Best Overall" on CruiseCritic every year. Its a beautiful ship with a very user friendly layout. At 121k GT, it sits right in the happy medium of cruise ships in terms of size. There is plenty to do, plenty of room, and yet still small enough to be able to get comfortable with the entire ship over the course of 7 short days. Our two favorite areas of the ship are the sundeck and the main atrium. Both are absolutely stunning whether it is day or night.
Decks 3-6 are where all the magic happens. Bars surround the atrium on all sides but they are presented in a way that is very classy and doesn't ever feel crowded. The four main bars that we frequent are all very different in design and styles, and they are spread out in a way that no place ever feels particularly crowded. The martini bar and the Gastropub are opposite each other from the atrium. One serves decadent martinis in dozens of flavors and all is served in a beautiful lounge and a solid ice bar top. The Gastropub has the feel of a rustic craft beer bar that has an awesome selection of beers from around the world. This bar has ESPN running on TVs so it was crowded while the NCAA basketball tournament was going. The World Class bar is a really cool bar near the art gallery and shops. This bar has two "mixologist" that are expert beverage makers. I go here to experiment and try new drinks that I may not have tried otherwise. This requires the premium drink package, but you can literally tell them you like whisky, citrus, and sweet drinks and they will come up with something you've never tried before. Its a wonderful place to hang out before dinner or after shows, especially if your wife enjoys shopping as much as mine does! This last bar is my personal favorite: The Sunset Bar. Its an outdoor bar that is open from morning til late at night. It is at the top of the boat and at the aft, so the breeze and views are breathtaking. The Equinox, like all Solstice class ships, are covered in real grass on the aft 1/3 of the top deck. Its something extremely unique about Celebrity and its really neat to be in the middle of the ocean and have grass between your toes. All in all, its a wonderfully balanced ship. Its large enough for there to be plenty of options in how you spend your days, but small enough to still feel intimate.
Captain Kate Mccue:
Oh Captain, My Captain! I'll admit I was a skeptic at first. Not that I thought she was a bad Captain, but I didn't believe a Captain could have a significant impact on a cruise vacation. Most Captains that I have sailed with are only worried about doing their jobs, getting us to and from our destinations safely, and they allow the entertainers and the service staff to provide us a good time. And while that is completely fine, Captain Kate is amazing! Her personality infects the entire ship and everyone stops what they are doing when she speaks over the PA. She is an awesome Captain, and every single bit as good as she is advertised. I cannot say enough how impressed I am with her, other than it would be a mistake for Celebrity to ever let her go!
Concierge Cabin (C2) Room 1249. The stateroom is the same as any veranda on the ship outside of Suites, but this cabin does offer a unique feature that only a few cabins on the entire ship offer... a larger balcony. The Equinox has a few "bump outs" or "humps" in her design that cause a few of the cabins on each floor "bulge" out a few feet. At the angles of these "bumps" you get a slanted balcony. From the nearest corner, it is no smaller than any other balcony on the ship, but at its widest, its nearly twice as long. Our deck chairs came with ottomans and the chairs reclined enough that we effectively had loungers on our balconies. We didn't get quite the breeze off the balcony due to where we were, but the extra balcony space will be missed on the cruises that we dont have it.
Room layout is spacious enough for a cruise cabin, our bed was near the balcony compared to others that are near the bathroom. Speaking of the bathroom, its about average in size if you are used to balcony rooms. The shower has simple but elegant sliding glass door that doesn't waste any space. In concierge class we had access to slightly better bathroom toiletries and cosmetics. My wife didn't seem particularly impressed with the shampoo, but there could have been other factors that led to that.
In this section is where we found the best and worst that our particular vacation had to offer. We went into this cruise knowing we would be doing a night or two in specialty dining, specifically Murano. I'll dive into the specialty restaurants in a bit, but lets get the not-so-pleasant out of the way. Please understand that we have never had an issue in the Main Dining Room. Celebrity does dining very well, and I'd even argue that it is one of their strengths. This time, we just weren't impressed. My wife, myself, and my parents got sat at a very nice four top. The MDR is crowded as it is on all ships, so that didn't bother us. We had a very nice and attentive head waiter, and the food both nights that we dined there was excellent. The bar/drink service however, was severely lacking. My father and I managed to get our wine quickly enough usually, but my wife and mother waited 15-30 minutes for their bar drinks every time they ordered. It became such an issue that our poor head waiter would go off running to get the drinks himself. This isn't a major issue, I am aware of that, but I expect more from Celebrity. After two identical services with the identical problems we called our Concierge (perk of concierge class) and told her about the issue and she asked if she could inform the Maitre'D. Literally 5 minutes later the Maitre'D had ran up to our rooms to apologize, hear our feedback, and promised to improve the service going forward. People, this is what makes Celebrity different. There are 3000 people eating dinner in his beautiful dining room, and he stopped mid-service to run up to our room to personally apologize and ask how to fix it. The next day we got back from a day at port and my parents and I each had a bottle of nice champagne from the Maitre'D, it was a wonderful gesture and we were impressed.
Now as it turned out, we had a reservation at the famous Murano that evening. When we left Murano we were so blown away that we called our Concierge and asked her to book us in specialty dining for the remainder of the cruise. These restaurants are not free, nor cheap, but our concierge got us 20-40% off the listed price each night we dined in a specialty restaurant. So, in the end we never got to go back in the MDR, but I am convinced that the issues would have been fixed.
If you do one thing on a Celebrity Cruise, eat dinner at Murano. The first night of the cruise they offer it at a discount if you book ahead of time. My father and I are "foodies" and love fine dining. We both agreed that the Murano dinner service and quality of food is an experience that would be incredible even if it weren't on a cruise ship. Every single aspect, from the bread to the Grand Marnier Souffle is perfect. Lobster Murano is a top 5 dish that I have ever experiences and is cooked table side with everything from bacon, to lobster cooked in a cognac mustard creme sauce. We were so impressed that we booked it for every remaining night of the cruise that we could. One night they were fully booked, so we tried Tuscan Grille. It was very good, but with it being a for-fee Italian steakhouse, we left miserably full compared to the lighter and more elegant Murano.
Entertainment & Activities
This will be rather short as we did not attend any of the main productions in the theater. Celebrity keeps the same shows for 3-5 years before cycling them out, with us sailing on the Equinox as frequently as we do, there weren't any that we hadn't already seen.
We did however attend the comedy shows and watch a lot of live music. The comedian was great and the house band was excellent as well. Celebrity offers other activities like bingo, concerts, seminars, and workshops that many find to be fantastic. Admittedly we mainly go find somewhere quiet near a bar, as we are both young and always seem to be around crowds on land, we enjoy a more laid back experience on the boat.
With the exception of the MDR, which I consider a fluke rather than a flaw, service is impeccable on Celebrity. Tipping is a hot topic on any cruise forum, but I can definitively say that when I hand a bartender or my room steward a $10/$20 bill on the first day, they take care of my wife and I the rest of the voyage. I personally try to find a specific bartender in my most regular bars and tip heavy on days 1/2. I tip $1 a drink the remainder of the time and I am having another drink brought to me before the first one is finished. Celebrity has a wonderful staff and an underappreciated staff/guest ratio. I think the reason they named it "Celebrity Cruises" is because of how they want each and every guest to feel. It really is what makes them so special.
Cafe Al Bacio:
I couldn't figure out the best place to include this place in any of my previous sections, so I ultimately decided that it needed its own. Bacio is arguably the most loved place on the ship. They are a full service coffee & dessert bar that is open all day. In the morning people are getting their day started with anything from a cappuccino to a cup of decaf, and late at night every table is full with people winding down in the low light setting of an old city jazz bar. The live music from the atrium fills the bar and its just a super unique place to relax and enjoy yourselves. It sounds so simple and quaint, but I am amazed that every cruise ship in the world doesn't mimic this place into their own.
Ports & Excursions:
We loved every port we stopped at. We are very familiar with the Western Caribbean so only Key West was a first time port for us. Everyone has different interests at respective ports, so I will just tell you what we do every time and you look for more information if you wish.
Key West: We wandered on our own, Key West isnt a large town and most of the cool stuff is near the ship. There are tours galore and a really neat aquarium nearby. Grab you a piece of Key Lime Pie and a Conch Fritter and enjoy your first stop of the cruise!
Grand Cayman: 7 Mile Beach at Calico Jacks. You go to this beach for the water as it is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. CJ's is great, but very crowded.
Costa Maya: New favorite port in the Western Caribbean. The port itself is a maze, but very very beautiful. We find our way out and go to Maya Chan Beach Resort every chance we get. Check it out, its the epitome of a relaxing beach day.
Cozumel: I have an answer to the famous Sancho's vs Nochi debate... Sancho's is the best! All inclusive, wonderful service, and a beautiful (safe) beach. We go every time we are in Cozumel and have no plans of changing!
In Conclusion: My wife and I fell in love with cruising on our honeymoon and have been blessed to go one more than most our age. Celebrity is a perfect fit for what we want to do and how we want to spend our time on the boat. Its generally an older crowd, but we cruise like "older people". We have 2 more cruises currently booked with Celebrity, and 81 days cannot get here soon enough! Read Less