Andrew Thompson slipped off his sandals and scrunched his toes in the luxuriant grass. “We don’t have this at home yet,” the Michigan man said. “It’s still winter so this green grass is quite a treat. Never expected to find this here.”
Wearing eye protection, Eleanor McCarthy gently turned the hot glass figure of a fish she was creating. Under the careful direction of instructor Justin Lewis, the Florida woman said she was crafting her own souvenir while noting, “Who’d have thought you’d have a glass furnace here.”
The “here” that both travelers were enjoying was the newly upgraded Celebrity Equinox. Although I had cruised on other Celebrity ships, including the celebrated Celebrity Edge, I had never been aboard the Celebrity Equinox so was interested in learning about the more than $500 million the cruise line was investing to update its Millennium and Solstice-class ships. The Equinox underwent its extensive refurbishment in May 2019.
“Celebrity Equinox holds a very special place in the hearts of everyone at Celebrity Cruises and also for our guests,” said Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, President and CEO of Celebrity Cruises. “Guests are going to love the new, revolutionized Celebrity Equinox even more.”
For my seven-day cruise, we left from Fort Lauderdale, cruised to Key West, then on to Cozumel and George Town in Grand Cayman before heading back to Fort Lauderdale. We also had two days at sea which are often my favorites.
When I boarded the Equinox in February, I had no idea it would be my last ocean cruise for the year. That was before COVID-19 hit and I already had four more cruises lined up for the first seven months of 2020. How quickly life – and work – changed.
So now I am recounting the luxurious days I spent on the ocean aboard the Equinox and looking forward to cruising again somewhere sometime.
Launched in August 2009, the 13 passenger-deck Equinox has a capacity of 2,850 passengers and 1,246 crew. On my cruise, we had 2,705 passengers and 1,212 crew.
Entering my stateroom for the first time is always fun on a cruise and I was very pleased with stateroom 3166. Just swipe my key card in front of the door. Once in the room, the card does not need to be inserted in the light switch. Just push the light switch.
I always hope to get a stateroom with a balcony but didn’t this time. I did have a large window which helped greatly with light and ocean views. There are a range of different staterooms on Celebrity Equinox, with 85 percent of the rooms offering verandas.
Rooms start from interior (without a window), through ocean view (with a window), balcony (with a private balcony), Concierge Class (with extra perks like priority check in) and Aqua Class (with spa extras and a special restaurant), plus luxury suites with a butler and VIP lounge.
My room was large with a queen-size bed, sofa, small table, safe, desk with chair, five-drawer and two-door dresser, large two-door closet, plenty of storage and a small fridge. A huge flat screen TV had great reception throughout the entire cruise. Using the interactive TV features, I could keep tabs on my cruise charges. Very handy option.
Having a fridge is a big plus. I like to keep my soft drinks, water and snacks in there. The Equinox fridge, however, was already full of expensive soft drinks, vodka and small cans of Pringles. A fridge Coke cost $3.50 plus 20 percent tip. The miniature bottle of Tito Vodka cost $9 plus 20 percent tip. I had already purchased an unlimited soft drink package for $75.60 before boarding so only had to show my card with its special notation for the soda package. Liquor packages also are available.
Small nightstands with shelves were on either sides of the bed. What the room lacked was electrical plugs. None on either side of the bed. Two electrical outlets and USB ports on the desk. One in the ceiling of the bathroom. The bathroom had a large glass-doored shower, long sink counter with drawers and shelves. Toiletries were in reusable bottles with large print for easy reading. A super soft bathrobe was in the closet to use during the cruise.
Peaceful nooks and crannies
Although the Celebrity Equinox looks enormous, there are plenty of smaller nooks and public spaces so passengers never feel crowded. The library stretches over two decks with books you can borrow and relaxing spots to read. An art gallery, casino and shops are clustered around a Grand Foyer with glass elevators connecting the decks. A tree grows in the middle.
The open-air deck has two pools, hot tubs and plenty of loungers and day beds. The adults-only indoor solarium has a pool with waterfall, hot tubs and private loungers. Despite having a ship load of passengers, the pools never seem crowded and lounge chairs were always available.
I could hardly wait to see the real grass lawn on the upper deck. Amazing. The half-acre has sports areas and an outdoor movie screen showing films like the award-winning “Judy.” Two other theaters – Celebrity Central and Equinox Theatre – also showed movies on our cruise, including “Joker “and “Downton Abbey.”
Equinox entertainment was varied and excellent. The Celebrity singers, dancers and acrobatic performers presented big musical productions in the two-deck Equinox Theatre. Other evenings the theatre hosted concerts with the band and singers paying tribute to James Taylor, Michael Buble and other legends. Comedian Derrick Cameron was featured several nights. The ship’s Grand Foyer and nightclubs also offered live music and dancing.
Repeat passengers on the Celebrity Equinox told me that one of the biggest renovation changes is the ship’s Oceanview Café buffet restaurant. It has been redesigned into an open marketplace style with a multitude of food stations and a wide variety of choices every day.
The main dining room, Silhouette Restaurant, offered early dinner seating, late dinner seating and select dining. I chose “select” because I don’t like to be tied to one time. Most of my dining times were 5:30 and the wait staff was terrific. After just one meal, they knew me by name as well as where I liked to sit and what I liked to drink.
Dinner is four courses – starter, salad or soup, entrée and dessert. For example, the starter choices one night were mixed greens, shaved prosciutto and arugula salad, chilled pea soup, tomato bisque, blue cheese soufflé, whole wheat orecchiette and salmon rillettes.
Entrees were herb crusted haddock, broiled lobster tail, duck a L’Orange, leg of lamb, Beef Wellington and wild mushroom risotto. Dessert was baked Alaska, apple pie, sherbet, ice cream or crème brulee.
Specialty dining which costs extra includes Murano with French cuisine, Silk Harvest with Asian, Tuscan Grille with Italian, a sushi bar, Le Petit Chef at Osine and Gelateria. Luminae is for Suite Class passengers only and Blu is for Aqua Class passengers.
I paid $55 to dine at Le Petit Chef & Friends, mainly so I could write about the fascinating experience. The brainchild of Skullmapping, an artists’ collective that specializes in 3D projections, Le Petit Chef was like a miniature show on my dining table and dinner plate. It featured four tiny chefs – French, Italian, Spanish and Japanese. Each chef prepared a course and, at the end, diners voted on whose was best. The meal was amusing and delicious.
Ship offers wealth of shore excursions
For shore excursions, I’m glad I took my time and booked from home. The shore excursion booklet has 16 pages of things to see and do, along with the activity level of each and prices that ranged from $34 for a Key West Conch Train tour to $409 for fly fishing in the legendary Bacalar Channel.
I based my choices on price and what I thought would make interesting stories and photos. In Key West, for example, I rode the Conch Train – a great way to get an overview, toured the Hemingway Home and walked around town. At the Hemingway Home, his famous six-toed cats, descendants of an original polydactyl cat given to Hemingway by a ship captain, were pretty much doing whatever they wanted to do.
“They are special cats and as many people probably come to see them as to see the place where Ernest Hemingway used to live and write,” said tour guide Dave. “Hemingway was a very superstitious man. He believed he needed all the good luck he could get and the six-toed cats were believed to bring good luck.”
The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum has a huge rock in front engraved with a saying the treasure hunter would proclaim every morning, “Today’s the day.” A former chicken farmer from Indiana who was inspired by reading “Treasure Island,” Fisher never gave up.
After 16 years of financial hardship and tragic loss, Fisher and his treasure hunters found the Spanish treasure galleon Atoacha that sank off the coast of the Florida Keys in 1622. Estimated at half a billion dollars, the shipwreck made Mel Fisher the richest treasure hunter in the world.
After a day at sea, the Celebrity Equinox next stopped at Costa Maya, Mexico. My shore excursion was named the Costa Maya Port Pass for $44 and included a visit to the island’s aviary, a guided tour through a chocolate museum and a guided tour through a tequila museum plus tequila tasting. All were within easy walking distance of the ship.
My pass also provided three complimentary drinks at the island’s pool bar – cocktails, beer or wine or soft drinks. Plus we had reserved lounges by the pool. Excellent deal that I would recommend to anyone.
In Cozumel, I took a trip to the San Gervasio Mayan ruins for $79 where tour guide Alex said it is not true that Mayans no longer exist. “I’m a Mayan. It is the Mayan culture, civilization and knowledge that has disappeared.”
The island of Cozumel was considered sacred by the Mayans who lived there for hundreds of years, starting in 300 A.D. “We aren’t sure where the Mayans came from, why they settled here or why they left,” Alex said.
Ready for another cruise
Our last cruise stop was at George Town in Grand Cayman where my shore excursion was short lived. I had signed up for the Amphibious Bus, Land & Sea Adventure at $49. The new tour was to start with a narrated tour of George Town, then our vehicle would splash into the water where underwater cameras and LCD monitors would give us a glimpse of the world beneath the waves.
However, when we disembarked from the ship tender, we were told that our vehicle had a flat tire and would arrive shortly. After waiting for an hour, we were given the option of getting our money refunded and heading back to the ship. That’s what I did.
I spent my Grand Cayman day aboard the Celebrity Equinox and was quite happy visiting more areas of the beautiful ship. At dinner that night, passenger Joan asked what I thought of the ship and whether I would want to cruise with Celebrity again. Definitely.
Then I asked the Canadian woman and her husband Don whether they would cruise on the Equinox again. With a laugh, Joan said they had already cruised with Celebrity seventeen times and had just booked another Equinox cruise for 2021. An ultimate compliment.
I’m sure cruisers are ready to cruise again. And cruise companies are ready, I’m sure, to welcome them back. Here’s looking forward to that.
Cover Photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch: The main dining room is sparkly and beautiful.