Reviewed: Celebrity Equinox cruise ship
You might spot that this is a bit different from my usual accommodation reviews, being as that it’s a cruise ship rather than a hotel. But when you think about it, what is a ship really other than a massive floating hotel? Albeit more like a mega-resort with 1400 rooms, 10 restaurants, five bars and its own theatre. But it’s still a place to stay and picking the right one is even more important, as when you’re miles out to sea you can’t really change your mind and go stay somewhere else. Lucky I picked a good one on my first cruise this summer then – Celebrity Equinox. One of Celebrity Cruises’ fleet of ‘Solstice Class’ ships, she’s been sailing across the world since 2009. I had no idea what to expect, so was hugely impressed by the facilities on board, which were way more luxurious than most hotels I’ve stayed in. Admittedly I’m more of a budget luxury traveller, but the bona-fide luxury experts at Condé Nast Traveller agree and recently voted it one of their top 100 travel experiences for 2014. So what is life like on board Celebrity Equinox?
Normally I talk about the hotel’s location here, but being mobile that makes it a bit difficult! Our cruise travelled around the Eastern Mediterranean from Venice to Istanbul, via Dubrovnik, Corfu, Olympia, Santorini and Ephesus. But Equinox sails on lots of different routes around the Mediterranean, as well as Transatlantic and Caribbean routes. The fact that you stay still and the destinations come to you is definitely one of the best parts about cruising, and something a normal hotel just can’t compete with. It’s so nice to be able to unpack everything just once and as the travelling’s done at night so you can make the most of your holiday days. Our cruise had no sea days so we arrived into a new port each morning around 9am and sailed on around 6pm. So you get most of the day to see each place, though disembarking can be a bit hectic so we usually held off a bit. Most ports were outside the city, so you needed to get a taxi or bus if weren’t not doing an excursion. Celebrity provided some basic information on transport and a shuttle in some places but it’s worth doing some research in advance if you want to explore independently.
There are a range of different cabins (sorry staterooms), starting from interior (without a window), through ocean view (with a window), balcony, Concierge Class (extra perks like priority booking) and Aqua Class (spa extras and a special restaurant), right up to luxury suites complete with butler. We stayed in a balcony stateroom on deck six at the back of the ship, so got great views as we sailed out of port. It was bigger than I imagined and never felt cramped, with lots of storage space hidden away, and a separate seating area and desk as well as a big comfortable bed and en suite shower room. You get toiletries and ice provided every day, and the room comes with an interactive TV (where you can book excursions, check your account balance, etc), hairdryer and mini bar. The service went way beyond what I expected, with a dedicated stateroom attendant, the room serviced twice a day (including creating some pretty impressive towel animals) and room service 24 hours a day. After feeling slightly awkward on the first day about ringing up to have a cup of tea delivered to us, it didn’t take long to get used to it.
You’ve got no chance of going hungry on a cruise – there’s always something to eat somewhere. There’s a huge range of eating options, from formal dining to a buffet, plus a creperie, cafe, salad bar and burger grill. Most mornings we ate in the buffet, with a mix of cooked and continental options plus loads of fresh fruit. You could also have breakfast delivered to your room. After a day out you can refuel on tea and cakes in the afternoons. Then in the evenings, we ate dinner in the main dining room on a flexible package, so we could go at any time and choose whether we wanted to share a table or eat on our own. Dinner is four courses (starter, salad, main and dessert) but portion sizes aren’t ridiculous. There’s a standard menu and one that changed each day, all marked for gluten and dairy in case of food intolerances. They’re also happy to adapt dishes if you give notice – each night I was given the next day’s menu to check. Most dining options are included, but there are some speciality restaurants which cost extra. We ate in classy continental-style Murano one night ($45 per person) but there was also Silk Harvest (Asian) and Tuscan Grille (steak).
Although the ship looked enormous, with 2800 passengers on board I did wonder if it would feel crowded. But the public areas stretch over 12 floors and are divided into lots of smaller sections so it never felt busy. On the top floor there’s a real grass lawn, as well as a glass-blowing studio where they do nightly demonstrations. Below is the pool which has lots of sunloungers and day beds, as well as an adults-only indoor solarium with jacuzzis and a gym. Then underneath are various rooms like a library, art gallery, casino and shops, all set around a central atrium with glass lifts connecting the floor. Right on the lowest floors is a full-size theatre, which puts on a different show each night, with a magician, singers and a Cirque du Soleil style show. There’s also a nightclub and a whole selection of different bars, from the Sunset Bar on deck at the back of the ship to the classy Sky Bar up front. You can pay as you go for drinks or buy packages (though you have to buy them for the whole cruise so can get expensive). We didn’t have any full days at sea so most of the time people were getting on and off or relaxing after a busy day, so sometimes it almost felt deserted, and was easy to find somewhere peaceful watch the sun go down with a G&T.
- Guests are… mostly from the US, Australia and Europe, with a surprisingly broad age range. There was a mixture of couples and groups of friends as well as families, mainly with older children.
- Staff are… plentiful! There’s almost one staff member for every two guests. All were incredibly friendly and helpful, from our stateroom attendant to the woman on the dining room reception who remembered our room number every night after we told her once on the first day.
- Don’t forget… your ‘Sea Pass’ – it acts as an all-in-one ID, room key and charge card so you need if for anything from buying a drink to getting back on board, so take good care of it.
- Useful to know… if you want to check your email (or upload those holiday selfies), there is wifi on board but it’s pricey and slow. But there were cheap internet cafes near the port in all our stops. See lots more tips in my guide for first-time cruisers.
My mum and I were hosted by Celebrity Cruises on their Venice to Istanbul cruise, but all views and opinions are, as always, my own. A seven-night trip on a similar route next summer currently costs £1700 for two people sharing an interior stateroom, or £2100 for a balcony stateroom like ours. The cost varies a lot but you can usually get the best deals booking either well in advance or at the last-minute.