Length: 1,033 ft
Second in the class of Solstice-class ships with several fine dining venues, opulent decor and spacious designBest For People Who Want
A spacious premium ship with plenty of dining options and an active nightlife; a relaxing but elegant onboard ambience; onboard shopping; large bathrooms in all stateroomsShould Be Avoided By People Who Prefer
Small-ship cruising, whimsical decor, singing and dancing waiters, an active onboard sports program
Celebrity Equinox is the second in the Solstice class of cruise ships from Celebrity, and while it is practically impossible to tell Equinox apart from Solstice there is nothing wrong that. After all, why toy with perfection? Is "perfection" too strong a word? Not according to the accolades given to Celebrity Solstice by the press and the cruising public when she was introduced in 2008. Now with the addition of Celebrity Equinox there are two of these identical sister ships, two masterpieces of design and décor, with three more on order.
If you already like Celebrity you will love Equinox. Is it too big? Is the Hearst Castle too big? Size is relative and in many ways Equinox is like a roomier version of the Celebrity Millennium-class. The designers more than compensated for the larger capacity, making her the perfect size - alive with activities but never too crowded.
Equinox is also beautiful with many of the same features that make the Millennium class appealing. There are long drapes cascading down from three decks above to frame the Grand Foyer staircase. There is a beautiful chandelier in the dining room while the alternative dining spots are generously apportioned with plenty of space between the tables.
The vast majority of staterooms have balconies, and they average 15% larger than other Celebrity ships, Most of the extra room is given over to the bathroom where there is enough room for two people to get ready for dinner. The large showers feature sliding doors rather than plastic curtains that hug against you and there is more storage than most cruise ships.
One major extravagance is shopping with 18 outlets for "retail therapy" onboard. There are gift shops exclusively for women and for men, jewelry shops, dress shops, souvenir shops and kiosks. One does not generally cruise to shop, but these stores are certainly tempting and you can always go in just to chat. The art gallery is low-key and not hard-sell. Look for the 86-facet diamond-pattern round cut Equinox Diamonds - available in all sizes.
Ten dining options will satisfy any craving, especially for fine coffees with pastry or gelato. Wine tastings by the glass are offered. There is an extensive library and game room.Decor
In terms of decor Celebrity cruises chooses to make all of the ships of any one class pretty much identical in decor. In this case, there is nothing wrong with that since these are beautiful ships, even if there a "sameness" to them.
The relaxed yet vivacious atmosphere of this vessel will surely please everyone. Every piece of furniture has been people-tested for comfort as well as eye-appeal. The beds are sublime, as are the chairs in the restaurants and the loungers on the sun-soaked outside pool decks.
There is nothing sparse or boring about the interior décor. Most interesting are the views of rooms like the library and the unique "Team Earth" from across the twelve-deck sun-soaked atrium. When you can see around the living "flying tree" you get a diorama-like view of these special rooms that makes them look like they were placed there solely for visual appeal. Not so, of course, the library has over 8,000 books, and Team Earth is a user-interactive display of various worldwide topics of interest.
At the bottom of the atrium is this Grand Foyer with a majestic unbroken three-deck staircase and billowing drapes hanging from three decks above to create a memorable setting for the string quartet and solo guitarist who set up and play, amplified organically by the marble and glass surroundings. Looking down on the foyer are several seating areas for cafes and bars. The ship is full of glass partitions giving long views into several rooms at once from several spots on the ship. There is always something of interest to catch your eye no matter where you are.
There is more shopping onboard than almost any ship I can remember; 18 different boutiques and shops, including the "Boutique C" jewelry shop. This one, open by appointment only, features the "Solstice Diamond," the unique 86- faceted star shaped diamond that comes as a single stone, in rings, necklaces or earrings. You can order a Solstice diamond to be custom cut for you. I saw a 1.1-carat sample, color-F and clarity VS-1, carrying a price tag of "only" $25,000.
There are two different shopping areas; the "Galleria Boutiques" offers more indulgent ideas such as jewelry and a shop just for men with exclusive watches. "Shops on the Boulevard" features impulse buys such as Celebrity logo-wear, kitchen accessories, snack items and spirits.
The dining rooms are spectacular, each in their own way; with perfect light and color coordinated table settings. The main dining venue, the Grand Epernay, is particularly attractive with white tables, walls and pillars accented by a silver chandelier and railings over glass panels. Alternatative dining rooms Muranos, Tuscan Grille and Silk Road as well as other themed rooms include the wine bar Tastings, each have their own decorative flair. The martini bar, Crush, features an ice covered bartop to keep your drink cool to the last sip. There is nothing stark or minimalist on this ship, nor is it overly garish or baroque. The decor fits each room just right.
Above the eatery and pool decks is the Lawn Club, the first patch of live grass at sea. While grass on its own is not an attraction, what happens there certainly is. On the lawn you will find bocce ball, a putting green and croquet. Next to the lawn is the Corning Museum "Hot Glass Show" with live glass-blowing demonstrations held a few times each day. Corning Glass is already well known in America for Corningware, but many people do not realize the Corning Museum is one of the finest glass museums in the world. Corning Glass is also the home of Steuben Crystal, a company that features original works of art in crystal by different artists. The gift shop is also an excellent place to buy original pieces of glass artwork.Cuisine
Celebrity Cruises was long associated with the culinary guidance of 3-star Michelin chef Michel Roux of London. That association began when Celebrity was under the auspices of John Chandris and lasted almost two decades before the line sought the guidance of dining expert Elizabeth Blau.
Now, Celebrity Cruises' reveals that within Blau's portfolio of culinary experts was one that the line grew so fond of they have tapped him as the "go-to guy." New Vice President of Food & Beverage, Jacques Van Staden is now in charge of creating the menus for each of the ten different dining destinations onboard Equinox and all other Celebrity ships as well.Restaurants
The Grand Epernay: this two-level dining room features a stunning décor of mostly white walls and angular pillars, chairs and tablecloths. There is a grand staircase with silver railings and an immense chandelier of hanging silver bubbles. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the menu features continental European cuisine and champagne from the rooms' namesake region.
Tuscan Grille: Italian steakhouse and specialty restaurant offering fine Italian wines and panoramic views along with your Caesar salad, made tableside. Surcharge $25 pp. This is our favorite eatery with grand views through full windows over the stern. The appetizers and desserts are heavenly.
Silk Harvest: Cuisine of Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, China and India, served family-style, with built-in lazy-Susans and small plates perfect for sharing. Surcharge $20 pp.
Blu Restaurant: The specialty restaurant set aside as the exclusive dining venue for the AquaClass suite guests, serving healthier (but not true spa cuisine) fare in a sophisticated and soothing atmosphere. In fact, anyone can dine here for a small fee ($5.00) but the food is nearly the same as the main dining room - except that it is cooked a la minute so it arrives hot.
Murano Restaurant: Savory multi-course meals featuring a blend of classic and modern continental cuisine with an extensive and superb wine list. Surcharge $30 pp. The foie gras with a ginger hard roll base is heavenly. The desserts, which come in a rack of six two-ounce portions.
Bistro on Five: This small, bistro-like room hidden behind glass walls in the public areas of deck five, this room features crepes of all kinds from breakfast to luncheons with beef or chicken and, of course, desserts. There are also soups, salads and quiche. The surcharge is a simple $5.00 per person.
Café al Bacio and Gelateria: across from the Bistro on Five, this upscale coffeehouse features mostly pastries and gelato or Italian ices by the scoop. There is a small charge for the gelato. Coffee and gelato cost from $3.00 to $5.00 per serving.
AquaSpa Café: not for the exclusive use of the AquaSpa suite guests (that is "Blu.") This restaurant is inside the Solarium and features lighter, healthier fare such as salads, fresh raw vegetables and small sandwiches.
Mast Grill and Bar: the poolside grill serving up the usual poolside fare; hamburgers, fries, tacos, chicken wings, bratwurst, gyros, ruebens and onion rings. The menu changes daily and will offer Mexican or German fare on different days. This is the best place to get a hotdog onboard.
The Oceanview Café and Grill: this is one of the nicest Lido cafeteria-style buffet rooms this cruiser has ever seen. With a multitude of dedicated stations of different types of food, it is easy to see all of the possible selections and lines are always short. Dedicated stations include the carvery, salad bar, dessert bar, Asian stir-fry, grilled steaks and chops and more.Service
The service on our sailing was exceptional. A decade ago one would find Celebrity Cruises' staff very professional yet stoic in service. These days, they are encouraged to make the service friendly as well as professional. Beyond exceptional is the tuxedo-clad service in Murano, the specialty restaurant.Tipping
Celebrity suggests a per-person per-day gratuity of $3.50 for the waiter, butler (Suites only) and stateroom attendant; $4.00 for Concierge Class stateroom attendant; $2.00 for the Assistant Waiter; and $.75 for the Assistant Maitre d' and the Assistant Chief Housekeeper.
All guests are given a form to sign if they wish to have these gratuities charged to their shipboard account. Children under 12 who are the third or fourth person in the stateroom pay only half these amounts. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to all beverage tabs. Gratuities for room service, spa, casino and other staff are at your discretion.Entertainment
Equinox has something for everyone in terms of entertainment. While it isn't as sports-oriented as sister company Royal Caribbean, many of the outdoor elements are there. There is a basketball court, a jogging track, putting green and Bocce ball.
Indoors during the daytime the library is extensively informative and the card room has plenty of tables and games.
A new attraction called "Team Earth" features user-interactive computer generated showcases of various topics of human interest. It is overseen by Conservation Intl., a Washington D.C.-based non-profit organization that gently persuades large American corporations and other organizations to make their daily environmental practices "greener." Celebrity donated $10,000,000 to the fund as seed money for the Team Earth display. Naturally, it is there to underscore the point that Celebrity is environmentally aware and has many forward-looking practices to help planet Earth remain green.
The pool area is ample with plenty of plush loungers, two pools and two hot tubs. The cabana loungers are comfy and plentiful. The Solarium is an adults only greenhouse style swimming pool with great temperature-controlled sunning in any climate. The AquaSpa restaurant is inside.
Online at Celebrity has been replaced on Eclipse with an Apple Computers iLounge, a combination web cafe using iMacs pkus a story and coputer education center featuring Apple products. Celebrity plans to put iilOjnge on all of the Solstice class ships soon.
Although there is plenty of shopping, the Art Gallery on Equinox is notable in that Park West Galleries, the company that runs art auctions on most cruise ships, does NOT run it. Millenia Fine Art, an Orlando, Florida-based company, is taking a much lower-key approach. The purveyor of the gallery actually told me they only do onboard auctions only at the request of the cruise line. Otherwise, the gallery is open for viewing, like a museum, and there is no pressure to buy anything.
For fine art, it is hard to beat an original piece of art glass or crystal by the glass blowers of the Corning Museum. Corning Glass is already well known in America for Corningware, but many people do not realize the Corning Museum is one of the finest glass museums in the world. Corning Glass is also the home of Steuben Crystal, a company that features original works of art in crystal by different artists. The Corning Museum "Hot Glass Show" is held a few times each day on "The Lawn." The gift shop is also an excellent place to buy original pieces of glass artwork.
Nighttime entertainment begins in the Equinox Theater, which features three different shows with a full cast of singers and dancers on every seven-night cruise. The theater is a two-deck venue with a forward thrust proscenium stage and extensive balcony seating. The singers and dancers are very talented and the show has universal appeal.
Other diversions include the casino with several table games including craps, roulette, 21, let it ride and more. There are hundreds of slots including nickel and 2-cent machines. There are poker tables with an electronic "dealer" that allow from five to eight players to challenge one another.
The Sky Observation Lounge features a live band and large dance floor. It is high atop deck 15 forward and has an eclectic décor of white and red couches and chairs. The Quasar Dance Club is the ship's "disco" with pod-like seating and a loud sound and lighting system. This is the late night hot spot. The Martini Bar is located in the main public area next to "Crush" and both feature mixed drinks with the stronger spirits.
Michael's Club is the "Gentlemen's Club" where one can smoke a cigar and sip a brandy. The décor is decidedly masculine with deep recliners and paintings of popular game targets. The entertainment is a piano soloist.
The Passport Bar is a casual nightclub perfect for conversation with mixed company. Cellar Masters is for oenophiles looking to taste the finest vintages by the glass. The Ensemble Lounge is the late night live music venue. Galleria Tastings is for sampling malt-based scotches, brandies and other spirits.
Throughout the day and night various musical artists can be heard throughout the ship. A singer/guitarist plays sets poolside, in the atrium and in the Ensemble Lounge. A string quartet plays in the Atrium during the day and in Michael's Club and the Solarium at night.
A Jazz Trio plays in the Ensemble Lounge nightly, A pianist fills the atrium Grand Foyer daily, A steel drum player plays poolside and the pop/rock band "Top Secret" plays poolside during the day and in the Sky Lounge at night.
Equinox keeps up the tradition of Celebrity having an excellent A Capella vocal group onboard. There is a quartet group that performs at least twice a day in the Ensemble Lounge and in the Court.Cabins
All of the staterooms on Solstice share certain things in common. They average 15% larger than previous Celebrity cabins and most of that space is given over to the bathroom. The bathrooms are large enough for two people to get ready at the same time. There is ample storage space and the showers are approximately 25% larger than the average cruise ship.
All staterooms feature flat-screen televisions of at least 32-inches. Although the televisions are placed over the desk instead of directly in front of the bed, it is possible to adjust the angle of the screen so it is squarely visible to both people in bed. All beds can be separated into two twin beds or put together as a single queen-sized bed. All have a rounded corner to make it easier to walk around.
All staterooms offer wireless Internet access at an additional fee, with data throughput nearing broadband speeds - impressive for a satellite service. All cabins come with a generous sofa directly in front of the television. In cabins that can accommodate extra guests, these sofas are trundle beds. Solstice does not have pulldown beds with ladders.
The desk area has plenty of shelf space and both US 110-volt and European 220-volt outlets - perfect for a computer setup, or a vanity area with lighted mirror. There is an adjustable-height coffee table. The staterooms all have doors that open outward towards the hallway instead of inward. All of the doors are recessed from the hallways so they do not open into public traffic lanes.
Every stateroom features an Apple Computer-based interactive television. A Mac Mini running special software allows the user to interact with various cruise services like shore excursion bookings, onboard accounts, on-demand movies, restaurant menus, ordering room service and more.
Inside Staterooms: Comprising only about 10% of all staterooms onboard, the inside rooms range from 183 to 200 sq. ft. and are generally the same layout as the basic oceanview or verandah cabins.
Oceanview Staterooms: these cabins are also the same basic layout with slightly shorter sofas that do not contain trundle beds.
Veranda Staterooms: As mentioned, these comprise 85% of the cabins on the ship. There are several different categories of verandah cabins in Solstice, but all of the veranda cabins are at least 194 sq. ft and the balconies are a minimum of 54 sq. ft. - a generous size large enough for a lounger, table and a chair. The main difference between the two categories above and Verandah cabins is that the sitting area is next to the full, floor to ceiling sliding glass doors leading to the balcony. In the non-verandah cabins the seating area is next to the bathroom.
Sunset Verandah: 194-sq. ft. with essentially the same layout as an oceanview cabin.
Concierge Verandah: 194-sq. ft. with essentially the same layout as an oceanview cabin.
Deluxe Ocean View with Verandah: 194-sq. ft. with essentially the same layout as an oceanview cabin. The only difference here is that category 07 staterooms have an obstructed view verandah.
Family Ocean View with Veranda: these cabins are immense and roomy at 575 square feet. Situated fully forward of the ship below the bridge, they come with slanted walls and a small verandah barely big enough for a chair and table, but with a solid steel windbreak.
There is a master bedroom with two beds convertible to queen-size, and a second bedroom with one twin bed. There is a separate seating area with a sofa convertible to trundle bed, a vanity area and a privacy partition. This is one of CruiseMates top cabin picks on the ship.
Suites: the smallest suite onboard is 300 sq. ft. All suites offer bathtubs, larger 40-inch LCD televisions, walk-in closets, larger verandahs and mini-refrigerators.
Sky Suite: 300-sq. ft. with a 79-sq. ft. verandah. The room is wider and the bathroom features a shower/tub combination.
Celebrity Suite: 395-sq. ft. with a 158-sq. ft. verandah. The bathroom features a shower/tub combination. There is a separate bedroom and main seating area with a couch, coffee table and extra chair. The outside wall is wall to wall and floor to ceiling glass with a sliding glass door.
Royal Suite: 500-sq. ft. with a 104-sq. ft. verandah. There is a main seating area with a 50-in. LCD television, a couch, coffee table and extra chair. The outside wall is wall to wall and floor to ceiling glass with a sliding glass door. The verandah is much wider and features a whirlpool hot tub. The bedroom is separate and the bathroom offers a Jacuzzi-style hot tub and a separate shower.
Penthouse Suite: 1,291 sq. ft. with a: 389 sq. ft. Veranda, this suite features a baby grand piano (midi-capable so it plays itself). There is a sofa queen sleeper, full bar, lounge seating and a full guest bath. The living room has a surround sound entertainment system with 52" LCD TV and wireless Internet access is available. The master bedroom features a king size bed, 52" LCD TV, vanity, walk in closet, marble master bath with whirlpool tub, shower stall with dual shower heads, double washbasins and 26" LCD TV. The veranda has a whirlpool and lounge seating.
The two suites above can be combined into one large suite.
AquaClass Suites: Celebrity calls these suites a balance between indulgence and wellness. They are all, 130 of them, located on deck 11 nearby the AquaSpa area. Guests receive a specially colored keycard to identify them throughout the ship.
In-room amenities include a welcome kit with a beginning teeth whitener, Frette robe and slippers and special shower gel to go with the five-head shower by Hansgrohe. There are oversized bath towels, Euro face towels, and special bedding with a pillow menu for your choice of pillow.
The room has light dimmers (as do all staterooms), special fragrance elements, a daily carafe of iced tea (decaffeinated if preferred), special room service with healthy choices, special music selected by music therapists and healthy daily canapés.
Most importantly, you get exclusive access to the restaurant "Blu," for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This allows for quiet, uncrowded healthy dining in a calm atmosphere. You also get access to the Persian Garden, a suite of aromatherapy mists and showers, hot wet and dry saunas and hot ceramic beds for full body relaxation. Upon review, however, this restaurant has not rated the extra expense and the Persian Garden is not one of the better Spa experiences. We recommend the Concierge category over the AquaClass for comfort without the added costs for extras that add little to the experience.Fitness/Spa
The AquaSpa area has all of the usual fitness machines and classes. Some of the classes carry a service charge.
Persian Gardens, a sensory treatment area within the spa area, features aromatherapy rain and mist showers, wet and dry suanas and hot creamic lounge chairs to warm your body througout. This is now available on a day-pass basis for $18-day. The Solarium is beautiful but has no thelassotherapy pool like previous Celebrity ships. It has a "no one under 16 allowed" policy that was not being enforced on our cruise, although the kids in residence were well-behaved. The spa also offers extensive acupuncture treatments which are surprisingly popular. The most common requests are for sleeplessness, backache, stress and seasickness.Attire
There are two formal nights on a seven-night cruise, three on longer ones. On two informal nights gentlemen need only jackets and no ties. On formal nights most men turn up in dark suits rather than tuxedos, while ladies choose dressy pantsuits or dresses. By day, don't even consider wearing anything other than shorts, sneakers, polo shirt and a baseball cap.
About the critic
I am 51 years old, married, a Navy Captain, this was our 6th cruise, 3rd with celebrity.
There is no doubt upon arriving at the terminal, seeing the beautiful Equinox you can expect great things. She is three and a half years old and looks magnificent. The best way to offer meaningful commentary is to address each element separately.
as many other passengers have commented, this process was outstanding. We were aqua class room 1650, 11th deck starboard side aft. From the time of arrival to the terminal at 11:20 to being on board was 15 minutes. That said, our next objective should have been to make a bee line for the Oceanview cafe. The stateroom hallways were sealed off so roaming the ship or beginning the inevitable weight gain process at Oceanview were the only options. By the time we elected to get a bite to eat at 1230, there was absolutely NO place to sit. We were with another couple and eventually found separate seating. The rooms were available at 1:15.
11 night cruise in balcony cabin on level 6. Nice cabin and large deck. Bathroom is one of the best we have had with a decent shower size. The ship was beautiful and roomy with lots to do on sea days. But, the food was nothing compared to what we experienced several years ago on Celebrity or other cruise lines since. Connecting to the internet was very complicated for many, especially trying to use your own devices. Because of the quality of the food we would not wish to take this ship again.
So much has been written about the Celebrity Equinox that I will limit most of my review to suggestions about how to enjoy the ship and the (transatlantic) ports of call. It is difficult to imagine a cruise that comes closer to ideal than our Equinox transatlantic cruise (Nov.28 - Dec.12, 2011), which sailed from Rome (Civitavecchia) to Ft. Lauderdale, spending a week in the western Mediterranean and a week crossing the Atlantic. The Equinox is a beautiful ship and the crew could not be better-trained or more enthusiastic. Everyone, from the crew members who daily polished the stair railings to the cabin stewards to the wait staff to the senior officers and personable cruise director (named Que, pronounced Q), made every effort to insure that passengers had a wonderful time. The ship is German-built, and no expense seems to have been spared. It is like owning a Mercedes -- every detail is well-designed and expertly crafted, and one notices something new and beautiful about it every day. The cabins are modular and arranged in pairs, with a curved wall between each pair and a flat wall between each module. That maximizesthe space around the bed, which is in the bump out, while minimizing the total space required. This dual cabin module is a feature of inside, outside and balcony cabins, but not the larger suites. This means that cabins alternate between having the bed near the door or near the windows. It also means that cabins can be joined at the entryway, rather than having a pass through door, which can be noisy. When choosing a cabin, make sure you specify your floor plan preference. Keep in mind that the pool deck has a major overhang, and the balconies just below it are in the shade. Also, aft balconies are tiered, so they are sunnier but less private, and may have some soot from the stacks. The public areas are gorgeous and well-used on sea days. There seemed to be something going on to satisfy any taste. The enrichment lectures (three academics) and the classical musicians were fantastic. As usual, everything musical is over-amplified, so take your earplugs to all events, especially the stage shows and the talented a capella quartet. People often discuss cruise food and sometimes sound like the princess-and-the-pea: they niggle about minor details without enjoying the major pleasures. We found the food on the Equinox second to none, including our experience with luxury lines like Silversea. There are several elegant and popular alternative restaurants on the Equinox, but we tried none: dining in the main dining room was a pleasure and we felt no need to pay the hefty surcharges for alternative dining. Each menu was imaginative and beautifully presented, which is a feat considering the length of the cruise. The beef was not prime in the main dining areas, but it was flavorful, and the fish was always ideally cooked (rare when requested for game fish like tuna, well done but rarely dry for white fish). Appetizers were so tempting that we usually had two and skipped the soups and salads, which are also excellent. We had open ("Select") dining, which required pre-paid gratuities. There was never a wait early (6pm) or late (8pm), but there was usually a line at peak times (7pm). It was enjoyable to have new dinner guests each evening. The wait staff was amazing: they were good menu consultants, attentive, and very professional. The maitre d's (ours was the lovely Amelia) also did an excellent job, especially since everyone seems to want extra attention. They were always patient and cordial. Desserts are my downfall. To avoid doubling them at dinner, I stopped by the El Bacio coffee lounge each afternoon and had a sampling of the desserts there (no surcharge for the desserts). The buffet had excellent made-to-order hot items and wonderful cold foods, from salads to sandwiches to (free) ice cream. As usual, hot foods from the buffet steam trays tended to be over-cooked, which is almost impossible to avoid with self-service, but they were still flavorful. Best of all, there is a rear deck off the buffet where one can enjoy one's meal al fresco. One thing to keep in mind is that hand washing is more effective than gels at killing viruses (but gels are great for bacteria), so we always wash hands after touching any buffet tongs and before eating (most people just gel before entering the buffet area). There is a hand wash station (but only one) portside aft in the buffet area, next to a coffee station. No one else used it. The poolside grill is actually one deck up from the pool. People loved the burgers and fries there, but not the lines. We skipped lunches there, but nibbled on a napkin-full of fries when we did our deck walk before dinner each evening. They are the best fries in the world, and worth the calories. The gym is busy on sea day mornings: treadmills filled up and their use was limited to 30 minutes. Instead, consider the free stretch and ab routines run by the cordial personal trainers each morning at 0700 and 0730. When the weather is good, the class uses the top deck lawn. A lawn on a ship sounds crazy, but it is heavenly to watch the sunrise as one stretches on the (real) grass. The outdoor hot glass show also seems like a crazy idea on a ship, but it is wonderfully informative and entertaining. The three Corning glassblowers were very talented and a pleasure to watch, almost daily. They raffle a few of their items each cruise (they make three items during each show) and later auction some items for charity. One of my (free) raffle tickets was a single digit off from the winner, which is probably fortunate since I travel with an airline carry-on only and would have had no space to take anything home without having to check a bag. Raffles tended to occur about a half hour before the end of some glass shows, for those eager for a free work of glass art. It is difficult to recount all the pleasures of this cruise, both great and small. We were so impressed that we booked an "open passage" while on the cruise. This allows one to receive additional cabin credits (up to $300) on one's next Celebrity cruise, with a reduced ($100) non-refundable, non-expiring deposit. Prices quoted by the future-cruise staff seemed to match the prices we had previously found on the web. Some passengers mentioned that Celebrity has special web offers every Tuesday, but I have never had much luck with the Celebrity web site: it seems very klunky and slow to navigate. For those who want to see some photos of the ports of call and of the Equinox, the link follows: The Equinox Mediterranean and Atlantic cruise photos are online. Click on the following link, or copy and paste it in your browser if necessary. When the thumbnail photos appear, click on the slideshow option and wiggle your mouse to get the control panel and set your preferred speed. If you get a “stack overload message, keep closing it (click the X box) till it goes away. The images are degraded a little from the originals to save bandwidth, but they are still enjoyable. The first half is ports of call, and the second half is the ship itself. You may want to watch in two sessions. Enjoy! https://picasaweb.google.com/efschlenk/EquinoxCruise1211?authkey=Gv1sRgCOjm95Xkm-GyjAE# For independent (and inexpensive) SHORE EXCURSIONS the following information may be useful. I used public transportation and never took a tour or spent more than 10 euros in a port (except for the train ticket to Marseilles, which was 16 euros round trip for seniors). I prefer taking my time and setting my own itinerary. I speak tourist-level Italian, French, and Spanish, but English-only speakers should have no problems in these ports. Rick Steves has just come out with a guide to Mediterranean cruise ports. It is worth every penny for the larger ports, but does not include the smaller ports. However, there usually is a tourist official with maps at these smaller ports, often right on the dock near the ship. Celebrity charged only a few dollars for shuttle service into port town centers, which helps since some ports are large and industrial. Public transportation is always available from the town centers to the countryside and neighboring towns. CIVITAVECCHIA (port of Rome): After our last Mediterranean cruise, we spent a few extra days in Rome. Just before returning home I was mugged (in broad daylight near the Vatican) when leaving a restaurant. For this reason, this time I flew into FCO on the day of cruise departure, took the local (not express) train to the Rome-Trastevere station and then the local train back to Civitavecchia: total cost about 15 euros, and total time about 1 hour each way. Since I was traveling solo, this was much cheaper and not much longer than the alternatives between airport and cruise port. The walk from the Civitavecchia train station to the port entry is pleasant, and Celebrity provided a free shuttle from the port entry to the ship. Although I was early and the shuttle bus was nearly empty, the bus attendant would not let me carry on my (one small) bag and she was quite nasty about it. I was unwilling to let it out of my hands, since my bag once "disappeared" in a port shuttle in Spain, so I walked to the ship with my bag in tow. It took about 40 minutes and was dicey since there is no pedestrian walkway. Fortunately, I cooled down by the time I reached the ship, and check-in was a breeze. That shuttle was my only negative experience on the whole cruise, and it was my choice to walk. LIVORNO (for Pisa, Lucca, and/or Florence): Spending 2 hours by train each way to visit Florence made no sense to me, especially since I rented a place on the Arno near the Ponte Vecchio a few years ago. Instead I opted for Pisa and Lucca by public bus and train. The new Rick Steves guide to Mediterranean cruise ports gives all the details you will need. I had not seen Pisa since my childhood (it has not changed) and Lucca was new to me. Both provided charming walks and historic sights. In Pisa the walk from the central train (or bus) station to the Field of Miracles (Leaning Tower) is delightful. Pisa is a university town on the Arno River (like Florence), with great photo ops along the way. Lucca is an old walled city. The promenade along the city walls is beautiful, and some of the old mansions and guard towers with views are impressive. It was easy to spend half a day each in Pisa and Lucca. Including Florence would have been too much travel in too little time. Again, the Rick Steves cruise port guidebook gives great suggestions and has useful maps for all three cities on your own: Pisa, Lucca, and Florence. TOULON (actually the yacht harbor Le Seyne-sur-mer): Celebrity provided a bus for several dollars into Toulon (about 20 minutes away), but I preferred to take the local bus to the Le Seyne train station, and from there the train to Marseilles. The train leaves around 0800 and 0830, then about hourly except mid-day. If you exit the ship early and walk through the yacht basin (follow the pedestrian signs to the town center), a local bus will take you the 2 miles to the Le Seyne train station (Gare). It leaves the port area around 0730 and 0745, in time for the early trains. Its stop is at the intersection about 100 yards east of the yacht harbor entry (look for the bus shelter on the cross street). Walking to the station would be too far. Later in the day, a cross-harbor ferry (public) took passengers to the Toulon train station, but this was not mentioned in the ship's port guide, and I do not have details. Historic central Marseilles is only about a mile across, so it is easy to walk from the St. Charles (main) train station down the hill past the "Arab" street market to the picturesque waterfront. From the waterfront one can walk up the hill to the beautifully renovated Charite museums (ethnographic and archeologic) and/or catch the public bus from the waterfront up the hill for fantastic views over the harbor from the Notre Dame de la Garde cathedral. Again, The Rick Steves cruise port guidebook gives all the information and maps you will need for a wonderful day in Marseilles, and the train ride to get there is along a beautiful coastline. BARCELONA: Our ship docked at B terminal about a mile from the Columbus (Colom) tower. There is a port shuttle bus just outside the terminal for 3 euros round trip to the tower (worth it since the port is industrial). From the tower it is a short walk to the Metro station, where a day pass for the entire metro and bus system in Barcelona is only 6 euros. I took the metro to Gaudi's Sagrada Familia, then the bus to the historic Barrio Gothic (old cathedral, city museum, Picasso museum), then the metro to Parc Guell north of the city, then back to the Eixample District for the modernista architecture, then a walk down the pedestrian zone Las Ramblas, and then back to the ship at the end of the day. Montjuic and its museums (or Montserrat and its shrine) would have taken an extra day, best when cruises have an overnight in Barcelona. Again, the Rick Steves cruise port guidebook gives all the information you need to enjoy Barcelona on your own (and on the cheap). CARTAGENA: Very few guides have any information about this port, which is the sleeper of the cruise: small beautiful, and easy to access. Simply walk off the ship and all sights are an easy walk away. Just pick up a free city map at the tourist information booth on the pier. The must-see sight is the Roman amphitheater and museum. The city has been active since Roman times, and its buried history is gradually being unearthed. A beautiful new museum is on the pedestrian street near the ship. It takes you underground and then up and outside to the amphitheater, from where you can continue out and around to the beautiful views from the old fortress on the adjacent hill. Alternately you can take the elevator from street level to the fortress overlook, but the approach from the amphitheater is much more dramatic. By chance there was a Renaissance street market going on during our visit: great photo ops if you check my photo link elsewhere in this review. Just strolling the streets of Cartagena in good weather is a joy, even if there is no special street market going on. PONTA DELGADA (AZORES): The crossing from Gibraltar to the Azores takes almost two days and is often the roughest part of the cruise (per the weather and sea charts that I followed before departure). We had moderate waves hitting us broadside, but the Equinox was amazingly stable considering its tall superstructure -- just a gentle roll that was no problem at all. I am a poor sailor (afraid to tackle the Antarctic seas) but needed no motion meds and lost no appetite. Azores guidebooks in English are hard to find: the best are written in German, with good maps and hiking information. The surroundings of Punta Delgada look like Ireland -- small farms in green rolling hills, with cows occasionally blocking traffic. Idyllic. One can easily walk from the ship to the center of town, which has a nice historic feel to it since the Azores were the way-station for shipping treasure from the New World to Europe ever since the 1500's. There are some nice gardens and old churches, but taking a local bus into the countryside is the most rewarding option. At 0825 a bus left from the waterfront west of the ship (look for all the bus stands) and traveled round trip to the caldera lakes of Sete Cidades, one hour and 5 euros each way. I did not want to miss the ocean crossing, so I stayed aboard the bus for the round trip. A German couple on our ship got off the bus at Sete Cidades, walked to the next town, and took another bus back. Caution: buses are few and far between, and there is no way to join the ship if you return late. If the high cost of onboard internet annoys you, the Ponta Delgada library, in the center of town, has free internet access and great washrooms. Any local person can help you find it, and city maps are available on the dock. FT. LAUDERDALE: One way airfares US to Europe are outrageous (more than double the corresponding round trip fares), so I opted for a Choiceair.com open-jaw itinerary through the cruise line (still about the same price as the US-Europe round trip). Because I travel with one small carry-on only, even on cruises, I was able to walk off the ship at 0630 and was at the airport (by taxi) and through security and at the gate by 0700: a personal record. My flight did not leave until 1130. Usually I am able to fly standby on an earlier flight, but everything was booked this time. Fortunately the Delta Sky Lounge let me wait there (and have breakfast) since I am a gold elite flier and they now allow free access on any transoceanic itinerary (they stretched the rules for me on this domestic segment of the itinerary). This is a great new service from Delta that I learned about on a vacation to Hong Kong a few weeks before the cruise. It is worth checking into if you are a frequent flier. I have even used it to shower between long haul flights, although not all Sky lounges have showers. Hope you enjoy your cruise as much as I did. Bon voyage! P.S. Again, for photos of the ports and ship: The Equinox Mediterranean and Atlantic cruise photos are online. Click on the following link, or copy and paste it in your browser if necessary. When the thumbnail photos appear, click on the slideshow option and wiggle your mouse to get the control panel and set your preferred speed. The images are degraded a little from the originals to save bandwidth, but they are still enjoyable. The first half is ports of call, and the second half is the ship itself. You may want to watch in two sessions. Enjoy! https://picasaweb.google.com/efschlenk/EquinoxCruise1211?authkey=Gv1sRgCOjm95Xkm-GyjAE#