Big Ship, HUGE Ship! Part 2: Celebrity Equinox

My second cruise opportunity in 2017 was in October on an 11 night birthday cruise onboard the Celebrity Equinox.  This was our third cruise onboard this ship and all have been enjoyable.  This ship is almost the complete opposite of Harmony, it is smaller and geared towards a more mature crowd.  There is no mini-golf, no water slides, no ice rink and well you get the idea…. Where we had 2,000+ kids on Harmony, I could count on one hand the number of kids I encountered on Equinox  (partly due to the time of year we were sailing) and they were all very well supervised.  On the other hand, we had to deal with some rude and obnoxious behavior from people that were more than old enough to know better, part of this could be blamed on alcohol, which I suppose is a downside to everyone having a free drink package.   We also made some amazing new friends this cruise and did not let the few obnoxious people ruin our trip, we find the overwhelming majority of cruisers on Celebrity to be great to sail with.

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We booked early and were able to secure one of the “hump” balcony cabins, a Concierge 2 category with one of the largest  balconies on the ship.  Celebrity still provides toiletries and chocolates on the pillows but strangely no towel animals these days.  The concierge cabins come with lunch in the main dining room on embarkation day (which we almost missed because Port of Miami stinks,)  a bottle of sparkling wine, afternoon canapés and some other perks.  Many feel it isn’t worth the extra money but between the few inclusions and the extra points towards Captains Club status we still prefer to book this level.

Equinox has been moved to Miami to cruise the Caribbean year round with a variety of itineraries, many of them longer than a week and visiting more exotic ports than you would get on a typical 7 night cruise.  Our cruise was originally supposed to visit St. Thomas, St. Martin, Tortola, St. Lucia, Barbados and Antigua.  After hurricanes Irma and Maria tore through the Caribbean, we lost the first three ports and they were replaced with Nassau, St. Kitts and Martinique.

Now to my favorite subject, food!  Celebrity usually has great food, this time was no exception.  We did not eat at any of the specialty restaurants this trip, just the main dining room and the buffet.  Service was great across the board and the only thing we had an issue with was the reservation system (or lack thereof) for Celebrity Select dining.  You could not make reservations and it was difficult for those awesome new friends we made to get the same table every night so that we could eat together, even though for some reason our table was always available.  Also, the buffet could get very busy at peak times, which is common on any ship, but wasn’t quite the zoo Harmony’s was.

I’ve mentioned that we are not show people but we absolutely love the Corning Museum of Glass shows that they have onboard Solstice, Eclipse and Equinox.  This was the only show onboard that we watched and we even won a piece of glass that was made onboard! Some of the other things to do around the ship include hanging out on the (real) lawn, visiting either the main pool or the adults only solarium, catching one of the enrichment talks (on our cruise we had an expert in astronomy,) hit up the library or casino as well as some of the very nice lounges.  We had a premium drink package included with our fare so in the evening we were able to check out the lounges onboard, we mostly stuck to the ones in close proximity to the atrium and primarily the Martini bar, because the bartenders here put on such a fun show.  We also spent a lot of time at Cafe al Bacio enjoying their specialty coffee and tea.  As much as we love Equinox, we do find ourselves a bit bored at times and I do wish they could incorporate some of the entertainment options that you find on the Royal Caribbean ships.

All in all we still love cruising on Equinox and Solstice class ships, they are great for just relaxing in between stops at some amazing ports. The food and service are great, it just isn’t as lively or as entertainment packed as Harmony.

Where it outshines Harmony:  Better itineraries, more inclusions with your fare, better cabin amenities, less zoo like atmosphere in the buffet,  food is slightly better although Harmony had great food.

Where it falls short: No reservations allowed on select dining and just general aggravation trying to get same section every night, less entertainment, rude drunks (instead of hoards of kids.)

I wish Royal Caribbean would roll out some of the good things about each brand on the other, I think that could quite possibly, make the perfect ship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Big Ship, HUGE Ship! Part 1: Harmony of the Seas

It has been a few years since I have set foot on an (ocean) cruise ship but 2017 brought the opportunity to cruise twice, on two very different ships and experiences.  My first cruise was on the current holder of the largest cruise ship in the world title, Harmony of the Seas, it was a seven night Western Caribbean itinerary during the peak family cruise season in the Caribbean and there were over 2,000 kids onboard.  The second was an exotic Eastern Caribbean cruise on one of our favorite ships, the Celebrity Equinox, an upscale mass market ship.  The Celebrity cruise was nearly twice as long and it was also in the autumn when families with children do not tend to travel, so the demographics skewed much older.

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Harmony of the Seas and Celebrity Equinox docked in Cozumel

So, my first cruise after a 3 year drought,  was on a ship that was completely different from anything I had sailed on before, the Harmony of the Seas.  It was shiny and new and packed with entertainment options.  We booked an ocean view balcony, received only a modest $25 on board credit and did not purchase the very expensive drink package.  We received no other perks or inclusions, towards the end of the cruise, we did break down and purchase some wifi.

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The cabins were a new design for Harmony and they looked beautiful in the photos online as well as in person, it was supposed to feel roomier and I suppose it did but I did not like some aspects of the layout.  The way the bathroom was oriented, you lost that small hallway you typically have upon entering the cabin.  I know this sounds silly but this allowed for more noticeable noise and light to transmit from the hallways and I just did not like the bathroom door facing inward toward the cabin.  Royal Caribbean has also cut back on toiletries in the cabin and this just looks cheap, it is also inconvenient for those who do not want the hassle of having to drag their own.  All you are provided with is bar soap and a dispenser in the shower that I guess is body wash and shampoo in one.

The ship was so large that there was always something new to see and while we are not traditional theater show people, a few of the shows drew us in due to their uniqueness, with one being performed on the ship’s ice rink and the other at the aqua theater located on the stern of the ship.  We were glad we took the time to see the shows, they were spectacular.

Harmony also had an escape room, flow rider, rock climbing wall, mini golf, slides both wet and dry as well as zip lining.  The biggest issue that made most of these features less enjoyable than they could be is the sheer number of kids onboard, which made for terribly long lines.  Many kids were allowed to run around unsupervised so that some of these activities, like the mini golf, became exercises in frustration.  Loud music blaring from neighboring balconies, packs of teenagers running through hallways, etc. were also some things we encountered.  While it did not ruin our experience, we think we would prefer to try this ship again at a time when the demographics are a bit older, it has a lot to offer.

Not having an included drink package limited our desire to sit at the many lounges but I can see where if you had it or are willing to pony up for very expensive drinks, this ship would offer such great evening hangout possibilities.  There are bars and cafes tucked into beautiful garden settings for a more quiet and relaxed vibe or on the more bustling boardwalk and promenade which makes for great people watching and a lively atmosphere.  The food and service onboard was very good and we thought the champagne at dinner and mimosas at breakfast, that were often provided in the dining room, were a really nice touch.  The windjammer buffet was a complete zoo at peak times so we only had one lunch there and snacks one afternoon, what we did have was good though.

The major shortcoming with the Oasis class ships, including the Harmony, is the lack of diversity in the itineraries, 8 day or shorter Eastern and Western Caribbean runs  from the East coast of Florida.  For me the ship is the destination when choosing one of the Oasis class vessels and I wish Royal Caribbean would adopt the Celebrity pricing scheme with included amenities like drink packages and a fair amount of on board credit, at least in the winter season when a more mature crowd like to cruise.  I realize that these ships mainly cater to families with children but they offer a lot for cruisers like myself and could be so much more with more inclusions or a more varied itinerary.

Where it outshines the Celebrity Equinox:  Entertainment and variety of dining and bar venues.  It was actually easier to make reservations and request the same seating area with the My Time dining on Harmony than it was with Celebrity Select dining on Equinox .

Where it falls short of the Equinox:  Somewhat boring itineraries, less inclusive, too many children in the summer months with many unsupervised and behaving badly, skimping on the toiletries in the cabin, new cabin layout is not that desirable.  Buffet was complete chaos and there really is not enough seating for peak times.