We recently embarked on a 10 day #MyEndlessSummer Celebrity Equinox Cruise, in the middle of winter. Read more to find out how you can experience your own #MyEndlessSummer adventure, any time of the year.
Up until a couple of months ago, I had a pretty warped idea of cruise travel. Informed by occasional anecdotes from friends, random news reports, and Love Boat re-runs, I was left with a mental image of a floating city designed specifically for the kinds of people whose primary travel goals were simply to eat a lot, drink a lot, and lie around in the sun a lot. And while to me, a week or two like this sounds like utter paradise, it’s definitely not how the rest of my family rolls– In fact, our vacations are typically anything but relaxing. We hit the ground running and cram as many experiences as we possibly can into every single trip we take. This truth, along with the fact that my husband is prone to motion sickness, seemed to mean I’d have to put aside my dreams of a family cruise forever.
And then I became a travel writer.
That meant that when I was asked if I’d like to take my family on a cruise to the Caribbean aboard the Celebrity Equinox and write about it, I was pretty much obligated to say yes. And while I wasn’t technically obligated to do a happy dance in the middle of my kitchen after I said yes, I did that, too. Because, CRUISE!!! TEN NIGHT CRUISE!!! TO THE CARIBBEAN!!! Right? I know you’re with me on this.
Still, as the date of the cruise approached, I had a lot of questions in the back of my mind. Would my husband spend the entire vacation seasick and miserable? Wouldn’t we get sick of eating the same food in the same restaurants for ten nights straight? What would my kids find to do on a boat for eleven days? For that matter, what would my husband and I do on a boat for eleven days? How was this all supposed to work? I tried to research cruises on the Internet, but frankly, it was hard to wrap my head around the concept as a whole — It quickly became clear that my Love Boat trivia knowledge really wasn’t going to cut it. I was nervous about this particular assignment and all its unknowns — but I went into it with the mindset that while this might not end up being our ‘thing’, it would certainly be an adventure.
Well, it was an adventure, all right — and now that we’re back, I can’t wait to tell you all about it, because it’s clear from the many questions and comments I got from you guys on social media that you’re just as curious about the ins and outs of a Celebrity cruise as I was. I’m going to give you all the details about our experience and try to answer all the questions I think you might have– but before I even get started, I have to be relentlessly honest here, tough, crusty travel writer that I am, and tell you that OUR CRUISE WAS AMAZING. It was seriously. Amazing. It was so amazing, in fact that we booked another Celebrity Cruise for next year while we were still on the first one.
And now that that’s established, I’ll walk you through our cruise, and show you why we loved it so much.
Our cruise departed from Port Everglades, located just a few minutes away from the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Although our cruise wasn’t departing until late afternoon, we flew in the night before, just to be on the safe side. This turned out to be a good call — Because of wintery weather, our flight was delayed several hours and we didn’t get to our hotel until very late that night. Had this happened on the day of the cruise, I would have been completely stressed out.
Most hotels near the airport get a whole lot of cruise ship travelers like us, so we were able to take a free hotel shuttle from the airport to the hotel and a paid shuttle from the hotel to the cruise ship the next morning, then from the cruise ship to the airport at the end of our vacation. Another great (and probably less expensive) transportation option for this circuit is Uber.
When we arrived at the port terminal, we were completely clueless. It seemed like everyone around us knew exactly what to do and where to go except us! (I’ve since found this online guide about Port Everglades, which is very helpful for first-timers.) Fortunately, there were lots of terminal employees around to help us figure things out. We got our luggage tagged and sent off to the ship and then found the line to board the ship. The entire process was seamless and easy — We were actually on board the Equinox within 15 minute of arriving at the port terminal and from what I’ve read, this is a major plus for those who love Celebrity Cruises. Stories abound of 2-3 hour waits to board other cruise lines’ ships, but a short, easy embarkation process for guests on Celebrity ships seems to be the standard.
After being greeted with glasses of champagne (and orange juice for the kids), we stepped on board the Equinox and into another world. ‘Luxurious’ is a word used often to describe Celebrity cruises and that’s the very first word that comes to mind when I think about seeing the inside of the Equinox for the first time. As we headed down a beautifully appointed hallway to the jewel box-like atrium at the center of the ship, we passed shop windows filled with designer handbags and watches and my 12-year-old daughter sighed with delight. “I can’t believe we’re here,” she whispered, “on a fabulous vacation with rich people. And we’re still young and beautiful enough to really enjoy it!” I stifled a giggle. It did seem like we had stumbled into one of those girl trips on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
In the atrium, a cellist and violinist played beautiful classical music on the first level, while guests congregated in the many bars and seating areas on each level at the center of the ship. It wasn’t long before the announcement came that our rooms were ready. We eagerly headed to our stateroom.
Our room had a large and very comfortable bed as well as a sofa that converted into two twin-sized beds — Our stateroom attendant made up the kids’ beds each evening while we were at dinner and put everything away for us once we’d left the room in the morning. This set-up worked for our 9 and 12-year-olds, however if you have older kids and can afford it, I’d recommend getting two interlocking staterooms– rooms that open into a small vestibule, allowing guests to leave both stateroom doors open and close the outer door to the hallway.
Even with four people, we had plenty of storage. There’s a decent amount of drawer space in the chest and dressing table, overhead shelves above the bed, and a sizable closet with more shelves. I was able to fit all of our large luggage under the bed. One piece of advice if you’re planning a Celebrity Cruise — Bring plenty of extra wire hangers. There is LOTS of space for hanging items in the closet, and the more you can hang up, the more drawer and shelf space you’ll have for your gear.
The bathroom is also compact, but we actually had more shelf space in the bathroom than we needed. I think that’s the first time I’ve ever been able to say that. And our veranda was spacious, with two comfortable chairs and a table. We enjoyed having a balcony so much that we decided we’d never reserve a stateroom without one.
Once we’d seen our room and gone to the required safety drill, we went up to the top decks of the ship for the Sail Away Party, where there was live music and celebratory drinks. The days when crowds gathered at a ship’s port to wave goodbye to loved ones have come and gone, but leaving from Port Everglades was actually quite festive — High-rise apartments line either side of the waterway and many residents came out onto their balconies to wave as our ship headed out to sea. Down on the beaches, people also stopped what they were doing to wave at us. The kids were thrilled.
Once the Equinox was out on the open water, we turned our attention to the top decks. The ship has two outdoor pools and one indoor pool. Technically, children under 16 are only allowed to use the shallower ‘aft’ pool, however I didn’t realize this until after our cruise had ended; my children swam in both outdoor pools and neither the staff nor the guests said a word. This was probably due to the fact that there weren’t very many kids on the ship in January, so it wasn’t an issue.
Children must be potty-trained and out of diapers to enter the pool. On at-sea days, the pool was pretty crowded in the morning and early afternoon– However, the entire area cleared out quickly at around 3:30 pm. (That’s about the time this picture was taken.) Since my children enjoyed having the pool to themselves, we opted to do other activities in the mornings and swim in the afternoons. We all loved this arrangement, because it really felt like we had the entire upper deck all to ourselves.
Another standout feature on the upper deck of the Equinox (and all of Celebrity’s Solstice liners) is the Lawn Club, a half-acre of perfectly manicured grass. This quickly became our favorite place to be at sunset, when the sea and sky exploded with color. The lawn was always peaceful and never crowded — It seemed to be the favored spot for a little quiet time and reflection at the end of the day.
Lucky for us, food would not be a problem aboard the Celebrity Equinox! We headed for the Oceanview Cafe, an elaborate buffet-style restaurant with an amazing array of options for our lunch. I’ll be honest– The buffet was one of my biggest concerns. I knew that even the best buffet could become tiresome after ten straight days of eating from it. I also knew that with 2800 guests onboard to feed, the food probably wouldn’t be all that special.
Oh, y’all. I was so, so wrong.
Honestly, one of the very best things about our cruise was the INCREDIBLE FOOD. It was so much better than I ever imagined it could be — and this comes from someone who essentially eats fantastic meals for a living. The casual Oceanview Cafe was no exception– Here, a marvelous, over-the-top breakfast, lunch and dinner was served each day, as well as snacks (fresh-baked pizzas and ice cream were always available and an array of scones was put out at tea time each afternoon) and a late-night menu, available until 1 am.
The first thing that struck me about this immaculate buffet was how healthy all of our options were. Fresh fruits and vegetables abounded, as well as chilled salads of every variety, grilled fish and chicken, deli meats and cheeses, and a tantalizing selection of freshly prepared international dishes like Chicken Mole, Shepherd’s Pie and all kinds of Indian curries. A pasta bar featured handmade pastas and a variety of sauces. The dessert table was magnificent, always, and all of the breads were fabulous. Best of all, the selection of foods changed daily, so not only did we never tire of eating in the cafe, we actually looked forward to seeing what was available.
We got to know Celebrity Equinox Executive Chef Javier De Jesus well during our cruise and even see the galley, so we got a real understanding of why everything was so delicious. For one thing, nothing is pre-prepared — It’s all made fresh literally around the clock. Supplies are replenished at ports throughout the cruise and the day’s menu will often include foods sourced from the ports visited the day before, like jicama and fresh fish. Breads are all baked fresh each morning and were a highlight of meals — My husband and I try to avoid bread ordinarily, but on the Equinox, we had bread every single day! Another thing that I think made a difference was that Chef De Jesus is a very hands-on chef. We saw him in the background at nearly every meal, talking to servers and chefs and overseeing food preparation and display.
We all had our indulgences at the Oceanview Cafe — I was a huge fan of the Indian curries and fish ceviche, while my husband loved the grilled meats– but my kids’ favorite had to be the ice cream counter, which was open all day long. The cafe is close to the pool and kids’ area, so they stopped in often for a scoop of ice cream (flavors changed daily here as well). I could always tell when they’d paid a visit by the telltale chocolate on their faces!
My husband liked to visit the Oceanview Cafe for breakfast as well, but the kids and I took advantage of room service, which is also included in the cost of the cruise. We ordered whatever we wanted from the breakfast menu the night before, then woke each morning to a phone call letting us know that room service was on its way. This was definitely one of my favorite aspects of the cruise and something I’ve sorely missed since coming back home to ‘real life!’
For even more casual dining, burgers, fries and hotdogs could made to order at the grill beside the outdoor pool.
Formal lunch and dinner were also served each day in the Silhouette Dining Room, a sumptuous restaurant designed to look like the inside of a champagne bottle. We had dinner here nearly every night and once again were bowled over both by the menu and the extremely attentive service. We chose ‘traditional dining,’ which meant we had a fixed dinner time each night and went straight to our table at the appointed time. We were very grateful to have a table to ourselves — Celebrity makes every effort to seat parties of four or more at their own private table, a practice that’s not always the case on other cruise lines.
Our server, assistant server, bartender and sommelier were with us for the duration of our cruise, and we go to know them, as well as the maitre’d, very well over the course of our vacation. We loved our server, Venkat, in particular, who took great pride in the menu recommendations he gave us each night. With the exception of the ‘Timeless’ starters and entrees, the menu was different every evening and once again, the cost is included in the cruise fare. My advice here is to order anything off the menu that seems interesting — You aren’t limited in what you can order and portion sizes aren’t enormous. My husband and I often ordered three appetizers and two entrees and split everything, and our server would sometimes bring something out that we didn’t order if he thought it was particularly good! His advice was always on point– We learned later that servers regularly have tastings of the menu before meals so that they can knowledgeably tell diners about how each dish and how it tastes.
Dress code in the Silhouette is generally ‘cruise casual’ — pants and a collared shirt for men and pants or a skirt or dress for women. A few nights on each cruise are ‘evening chic’ — On those nights, my husband wore a sport coat and I wore a nicer dress, but some guests opt for tuxedos and evening wear. The staff managed to make everyone feel comfortable whether they were dressed up or dressed down — I loved the careful balance maintained during these meals of old-school formality without stuffiness or condescension. It made dining a true pleasure, even for my children. Our dinners at the Silhouette were definitely a highlight of their cruise and they didn’t even mind getting dressed up for them each night.
Dennis and I also opted to sign up before our cruise for a specialty restaurant package – We chose a 3-dinner package for $109 per person, which meant that we could make reservations for three nights during our cruise at one of the Equinox’s specialty restaurants. We both agreed that we could have happily eaten at the Silhouette each night and never gotten tired of it — However, the restaurants we visited were phenomenal, and we’ll almost certainly book a package for our next cruise. The $109 per person cost for three dinners was a tremendous value (the value increases with each additional dinner you reserve) — Once again, you can order whatever you want — and as much of it as you want– off the menu, and we paid far less (and ordered more) by booking ahead than we would have if we’d paid the menu prices.
We ate first at Murano, which was spectacularly luxurious and a true big night out for us. There, a flurry of servers waited on us hand and foot. We ordered lobster that was prepared table side and chateaubriand for two, as well as several incredible appetizers. Everything was magnificent, and I can’t recommend this restaurant enough.
On another night, we gorged on handmade sushi rolls and sake at Sushi on Five, the Equinox’s newest restaurant. We loved the sushi so much that we returned to Sushi on Five for our third reservation as well!
Since the specialty restaurants are limited to guests age 12 and up, the kids happily went to the Fun Factory on these evenings and my husband and I enjoyed a date night. On the last night, though, Venkat convinced us to let the kids dine alone in the Silhouette, promising to take care of them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the children as excited as they were going to a fancy restaurant by themselves that night — They had a wonderful time and felt very grown up, the servers did indeed take care of them, and I know they will remember that evening forever.
Besides swimming, there were plenty of other entertainment options aboard the Equinox — so many that we literally couldn’t fit them all in. Up on the top decks, the Corning Hot Glass Show was a big hit and always drew big crowds to see these works of art being made before their eyes.
On the last day of the cruise, the glass works made during the cruise all were auctioned off before an enthusiastic group of bidders.
We all loved the gorgeous two-story library — It was a great spot to spend a quiet hour or two reading when the trials of cruise life became too much to bear…
We also got in several rounds of table tennis at the Quasar nightclub during our at sea days. Outside the club, Xbox virtual reality games like bowling and soccer were very popular with guests, while on the upper deck, we could play basketball or soccer on the outdoor court. The Equinox also has a beautiful fitness center overlooking the ocean where we were able to sweat off some of those desserts we indulged in at the Oceanview Cafe. An outdoor jogging track was crowded in the morning and early afternoon, but by late afternoon it was deserted, making it an ideal place for sunset walk or run. Pilates, yoga, Zumba and line dancing classes also were offered each day.
My daughter and I spent a fun morning shopping in some of the 18 retail shops on the Equinox, where there were often flash sales on the promenade outside. Across from the shops, the colorful casino lured in guests wanting to test their luck. (I lost $10 in about 5 minutes on one of our date nights and am still nursing a grudge.) My husband went to one of several academic lectures scheduled during the cruise (topic: the formation and colonization of the Caribbean islands) and reported that it was standing room only. Feature films were shown each night throughout the cruise in the Celebrity Central theater and outside on the lawn.
The Canyon Ranch SpaClub offered everything from massages and facials to Acupuncture. Bingo games were incredibly popular (with a $20,000 jackpot, how could they not be?) — the lines to play extended far down the hallway. The Card Room was stocked with board games and stayed busy all day long. And then there were trivia challenges and pool volleyball matchups and scrapbooking workshops and bourbon tastings and fine art auctions — No matter who you are or what you like to do, it’s safe to say you can find plenty of ways to stay occupied on the ship. I can’t believe now that I worried I’d be bored!
The entertainment on our cruise was far better than I had anticipated. Live music could be heard in various venues throughout the day and night, ranging from classical music and Spanish guitar to reggae and dance music hits from the 50s to the present day. There were plenty of opportunities (and plenty of spaces throughout the ship) for dancing, whether you wanted to keep time to live music, a DJ in a nightclub, or silent disco.
Evening entertainment in the Equinox Theater each night ranged from rock singers and aerialists to a magician and juggler. A talented cast of singers and dancers presented several original shows throughout the cruise, including ‘Topper,’ a Moulin Rouge-style musical that literally kept us on the edge of our seats. (Our children insisted we sit in the front row each night, so we were up close and personal with all of the performers!)
As for kids’ activities on the Celebrity Equinox, honestly I wasn’t sure if my kids would go for them, since they tend to want to stay with us during vacations. They agreed to try out the children’s programming, though, and ended up loving it. The large, sunny Fun Factory on Deck 15 is for kids ages 3-11, while the X Club across the hall is for teens. However, I found the youth staff to be very flexible. When a lot of kids are onboard, children are divided up by ages 3-5, ages 6-8, ages 9-11 and teens are divided into older and younger teen groups. Since we were on a January cruise and only a few dozen kids were onboard, my 9 and 12-year-olds were allowed to stay together and activities were adjusted based on the dynamics of the kids who showed up each day. Even with a smaller group of kids, many, many activities were planned for children and teens every single day, from 9 in the morning until 10 at night. My children loved the extra attention they got from the youth staff.
Each night, a list of activities for the next day was left in our stateroom. Activities included sports, water games, Xbox challenges, science experiments, lessons on nationhood rules and rights, maps, flags and money, talent shows, card games, arts and crafts, Bingo, Karaoke and more. Family activities were also planned each day so that we could all have fun playing a game or doing a craft together.
A ‘Slumber Party’ is also available from 10pm until 1am — During this time, kids can stay late for an added cost of $6 per child, per hour. We used this feature on two different nights and it ended up being the kids’ favorite part of the Fun Factory experience. They were thrilled to have the youth staff all to themselves and stayed busy until we came to get them after dinner and dancing.
Private, in-stateroom babysitting is also available for up to three children from the same family, ages 12 months and up, at a fee of $19 per hour. This covers two babysitters so that no adult is ever alone in the room with your child while you’re gone. This is a very smart, safe feature, don’t you think?
I found the Celebrity staff to have a very realistic understanding of children, which I appreciated as a parent. My daughter at age 12 was old enough to come and go from Fun Factory and X-Club as she pleased, without signing in. We also authorized my son to check himself in and out of Fun Factory when he wanted. (This is an option for parents with children ages 9-11.) This freedom made the kids look forward to Fun Factory far more than they would have if we’d had to sign them in and out ourselves, because it was always their choice to be there. At the same time, the youth staff was good about keeping track of the kids’ whereabouts — They always knew where the children were going when they left and made the kids promise to call them or come back if for some reason they couldn’t find us.
And while there are some adults-only areas on the ship, I was pleased that the bars and nightclubs weren’t among them. If we wanted to have a beer at the Gastrobar or go to Silent Disco, the kids were welcome to come, with us, at our discretion — Only one nightclub was for adults only on our cruise, and that was only after 11pm. As a mother of older children who know how to behave in a bar or restaurant, I appreciated being able to keep them with me when we tried new places.
I’ve covered everything I can think of for families onboard the Celebrity Equinox. What I haven’t covered are the shore excursions, which are a HUGE part of the Celebrity Cruise experience and deserving of a separate post. Stay tuned for that next on this blog!
In the meantime, if you have questions, let me know in the comments. I’m happy to answer what I can.
Read more about our many shore excursions in my second post in this series: Shore Excursions with Kids Aboard the Celebrity Equinox.