CELBRITY EQUINOX-Sophisticated, Subtle, Warm and Welcoming
Holyland Cruise-October 18th to October 31st 2010
PROLOGUE.. We had booked this cruise instead of our usual Trans-Atlantic because of the opportunity to visit Israel, the cruise was booked in July 2009 for departure from Rome on October 18, 2010.
This was a port intensive cruise and with mobility problems we realized we would need private group tours and with much luck we managed to do it. Our wisest move was to hire a guide in Israel through Guided Tours immediately.
Last year on another cruise we visited and toured Rome and I was overwhelmed with it's history and beauty and unabashedly sobbed at the Trevi Fountain (yes, I threw coins in even though I knew I was coming back). Nothing had ever prepared me for the Rome experience.
Our adventure began with Parrot Pop having food poisoning the day before our departure and on the way into the airport realizing that for the first time in more than thirty years of traveling we had forgotten our passports and the livery driver could not/was not allowed to turn back. A friend came to our rescue and went to our home in the middle of rush hour traffic delivered our passports to us at the airport.
We arrived in Rome in rainy weather on the 16th with the streets filled with tourists/pilgrims under a sea of umbrellas following guides. The next day, Sunday the 17th, was an exciting and wonderful day as first Saint for Australia, Sister Mary MacKillop and 8000 Australians were going to be there. Sunday was absolutely gloriously warm and bright. Whether at the Spanish Stairs, the Trevi Fountain or Piazza Navarone (rumored to be where they raced chariots) tourists and families alike enjoying the day. We had never been to Piazza Navarone and it was filled with cafes and white umbrella tables, artists, majestic fountains, statues, gelato shops, pigeons, and lines of tourists following paddles and flags. Pigeons atop of the statues and the beautiful water fountains and a gentleman playing a guitar. Rome at it’s best on a such a beautiful and glorious sunny October day.
EMBARKING THE EQUINOX
Embarkation was easy, Parrot Pop was put in a wheel chair and taken to a special line, our pictures taken and we were taken to our cabin. After having been on the Soltice in a handicapped cabin I was taken aback by the size of the cabin. The location of the cabin was ideal, mid-ship, steps from the elevator and the library and because of it’s quirky location a deck which jutted out at an angle.
It took a newcomer to let us know the decorative wood blocks over the bed were storage cabinets and between that and the two double rods in the closet there was sufficient space even for an over-packer. The bathroom with the new shaped showers was quite efficient and the glass covered storage space and drawers made the bathroom area workable. Oh yes. we also used our shoe bags for storage on the bathroom door.
The only complaint with the cabin was the rounded shape of the bed at the bottom which made moving around the bed difficult, the shape of the bed may be “attractive” but not ideal.
Our room steward Arnell was determined that our cabin be ship shape and our clothes if we left them sloppily were always folded neatly.
SILHOUETTE DINING ROOM
Compared to the Soltice I felt the dining room was extremely well managed and very attractive.
The food choices as on all ships isn’t as extensive as it has been previously. There were always classics like steak, salmon, chicken, etc on the left side of the menu. On the right were several new items plus the daily recommendation, the “Chef JCV Dining Room Recommendation” of the day. Whereas I had a problem with lack of seasoning on the Soltice the food on the Equinox was maybe not a WOW factor but was quite tasty and presentation was always front and center.
An experienced and elderly frequent cruiser at our table requested a salt-free diet and every evening staff would discuss the menu for the next night. Many guests ordered two shrimp cocktail as an appetizer which the staff was delighted to oblige. On the last evening a tablemate sent back her soup. The waiters brought her a fresh bowl, they couldn’t understand that Europeans aren’t used to eating three meals a day and all she wanted was her “steak and chips”.
At the last minute we chose Select Dining, which I felt, had advantages, as it was located on the side of the second floor dining room, but we missed the camaraderie of the same table every night.
What can I say about this wonderful specialty restaurant? Murano and it’s staff is an experience in culinary dining and service and I’m only sorry we were able to go once. Some of their specialties are served in the main dining room, but they aren’t quite the same. It seems as if the Murano has their own kitchen and chef and from the famous goat cheese soufflé to the rack of Colorado lamb each dish had that WOW factor. There seems to be a group of staff for each table that concentrates on you and your meal. According to a staff member the dining room is sold out each night, except when they are in an overnight port and deservedly so.
The buffet café was the same design as the Soltice. Whether lunch or breakfast it was the same selections every day. One problem was on the days at sea the café was mobbed. Once you put a hat or bag down at a spot (the café was kept immaculately clean by the staff with them constantly cleaning off tables and removing dirty dishes) that if you turned in the wrong direction you couldn’t find your mate or your table. Had a woman asked if we saw their husband, when I kiddingly told her he went off with a younger woman she wished her luck lol I myself searched on the wrong side several times. Wonder if a number on each table would help? No trays were available sadly and you were left to juggle plates.
Decided that I wanted a fresh hamburger and onion rings. Once we found a table in the shade I wish we gone earlier in the trip to have lunch and people watch
AQUA SPA CAFÉ/Indoor Solarium
This was my secret hideaway. Having to stay out of the sun I would go early down to the Café and have a quiet and healthy breakfast and lunch. There are only eight tables and they fill up quickly. One morning at sea I went down a bit later and the chaises were all taken, many being held with books or personal possessions. Eventually, the pool butlers emptied the items after guests complained. One a.m at 7:30 saw a man put down a few items and leave with two books (this was a day at sea when the area was quite busy) and did not return until almost 10:00 a.m
BISTRO ON FIVE
A quiet lunch seemed in order one day and we visited the Bistro and I ordered a pannini which was so big it would have fed four people. Parrot Pop had delicious homemade soup and a salad. When he asked for anchovies the waiter said they didn’t have any but would get them and he did. He insisted we had to have crepes for dessert. All of this for $5.00, definitely a must try
Okay. so they don’t have rock climbing walls, an ice skating rink, but they do have the Cruise Director Dru Pavlov, a charming and gracious young gentleman who made everybody feel at home. All around the ship were little areas where there was either guitar music, a string quartet, dance lessons and one night in Israel they had a belly dancer entertaining with many guests joining in.
One of the things I don’t understand is why the ship had only English entertainers, not that they were bad, they were actually very good. Our very favorite was Paul Baker actor/singer from the West End. Brooks Aehron a celebrated English concert pianist entertained for several nights.
The Equinox production shows in general were pretty well done with the now “mandatory” cirque type performers and the theatre was packed solid each evening.
You never had to go far for entertainment on the ship, nor places to sit and have a conversation or drink.
Seat saving raised it’s ugly head one evening when a row of seats was being held and no amount of cajoling by the Celebrity Hostess would cause this man to give up his seats to all the guests asking.
Using a mobility item we discovered the secret elevator to the bottom level of the theatre. So, if you have a walker or use a wheel chair, you’re no longer a second-class citizen in the theatres. There was no need for us to be at the highest level anymore with possibly a poor sight line.
Sad to say I was very disappointed in singer/player in Michael’s Club, Katie Guglielmo. She played with only a few written notes she claimed and everything she played sounded alike.
PORTS OF CALL
This for us was a disaster and a warning to others. We had joined a group that we met on a board back at the end of June and directions for meeting were miscommunicated the day before. By the time we met up with the group there was no room for us. So, Parrot Mom flew back to the ship to sit in the hot tub and have a few “moments”. If only she had realized that there was a boat outside the gates to take her to Capri…. oh well, next time.
We had a wonderful tour going to Taormina (a tourist town) and glimpsed a wedding party going into the huge church, found some potent Cream of Limincello and soaked in the wonderful atmosphere. We were taken the charming little village of Castelmola where we had lunch overlooking Mt. Etna and then back to Messina where our guide showed us the famous clock tower that rivals the one in Munich for the moving figures. It goes off at noon, but we hadn’t arrived there until after 4:00 p.m.
Took a bus into the Old City and wandered around. For many of us it was a pilgrimage to visit an old Jewish Synagogue that had originally over 150,000 Jewish residents who were sent off to the Concentration Camps and much less than 100 returned. An emotional moment was when I observed a family from California, a family of a mother, father and two daughters, the father pointed out his family name on a plaque in the Synagogue his family left before the “cleansing”.
Found Corfu much less expensive than Rome even with gelatos and souvenirs and friendly people. Charming area and would love to go back one day
Through Ramses tour we had arranged with a group to tour the Giza Pyramids and Sphinx. We personally opted to tour just the first day and I’m so glad we did. The Giza Pyramids and the area were a sight to be hold
It was wonderful seeing the Giza Pyramids, police on camels, horse and cart drivers racing through the area giving rides and the persistent vendors. The area where the three Pyramids can be seen together with the desert in the background and tourists riding the camels on the dunes is one of those moments that will be in my book of memories forever.
The Sphinx was a bit disappointing in that is appears beaten up and much smaller than I expected in the evenings there is a light show and many cruisers/tourists stay overnight. The Government didn’t seem to have done much to protect these wonderful treasures in past years.
We were taken to a local restaurant for a typical Egyptian meal and then the at least a three hour ride back to the ship. To talk of traffic you must experience the streets/roads in Egypt. Overturned trucks, broken down cars, people getting out of cars and walking and the ever-present debris along the highway.
When we arrived back at the port at 9:30 p.m. Celebrity had their usual welcoming back wet cloth. What surprised us was that there was a phalanx of Equinox Officers outside offering us cold drinks and welcoming us back and asking about our day. No sooner were we through security on the ship another officer announced that the buffet was open for us. What a great welcoming back.
The next day instead of exploring Alexandria or more touring we went outside the gates where a bazaar is set up and bought lots of tourist souvenirs, negotiating/haggling is expected. I’m having buyers regret now, the recipients loved the little purses and the coin decorated shawls and wish I had bought more
In all the years we have traveled through the ruins in Peru, villages in the Amazon, jungles in Venezuela nothing and I mean nothing had prepared me for the filth, smog and trash strewn over the streets, roads and buildings looking like they have been bombed out and we are talking about a major world city
Israel was why we wanted to take this cruise. Many cruisers had family they were going to visit and leaving the ship the area was filled with private buses and vans. At the last minute we opted to stay overnight at the Dan Hotel. Great choice as our room overlooked the Old City.
Months earlier I had contacted Guided Tours and told them that I had three things especially that we wanted to see and with limited mobility there was no way we could squeeze in much more on the first day anyhow…. The Wailing Wall, Yad Vashem which is a memorial to Holocaust victims and the Chagall Windows at the Hadassah Hospital. Guided Tours were incredible to deal with and although we had two parties cancel for illness we worked through all our problems with the help of Alon.
Driving from the port to Jerusalem I was continually contrasting the smog and dirty air in Alexandria with the clean crisp clean air, the immaculate roads, the orange groves, the grapes growing, and the plantings along the road. It was like day and night.
THE CHAGALL WINDOWS-
Our first stop was the Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus. Walking through the two buildings I was surprised by the shopping malls on the lower level of this world famous hospital there were bakeries, cafes, clothing stores, jewelry, etc in both buildings.
Marc Chagall designed the twelve stained glass windows representing the Twelve Tribes of Israel… I do not pretend to understand all the meaning and for any fan of stained glass a magnificent sight, because of their powerful rich colors and beauty Now, I can go back and read again what I was witness to.
No visit to Israel is complete without going and paying respects to the six million Jews that died and were killed during the Holocaust. It was an
emotional journey for those of us who have lost relatives and families? Sadly, we did not have the opportunity to linger and watch the movies. Yad Vashem is somber and depressing to think of what might have been. There were groups of Israeli Women Cadets being led through, three young teens sobbing and consoling each other. A pin drop could be heard throughout the entire experience.
As we left we walked through a path of trees and I noticed names and countries. Our guide told us this was the Garden of the Righteous. Gentiles (non-Jews) of Europe who hid Jewish families. On one side was a special tree for Oscar Schindler. I had heard about the Garden, but the impact of these trees dedicated to those who helped the Jews was overwhelming. The Garden of the Righteous seemed to protect you from the hot Israel sun as you left Yad Vashem as they protected the Jews during that horrific time in Europe.
THE WAILING WALL
We ended our first day visiting the holiest of sites for the Jewish people. The Wall is alive!! It is a wonderful spot where families come with their children to pray, boys tussling in the area, daughters pushing wheel chairs with parents. I sat down and read my prayers for my family and friends and inserted a little slip of paper as is the tradition in one of the cracks.
There were so many tour buses and vans that the walk uphill at the end of the day was exhausting for Parrot Pop especially.
With those three stops on the first day we headed back to our hotel. Fortunately or unfortunately, the driver went to a hotel on the other side of Jerusalem and when he discovered the error we were taken on a tour of downtown Jerusalem to the other side to the Dan Hotel over looking the Old City The room at the Dan Hotel overlooked the Old City and that is what we saw lit up the first night and the next morning.
There was an incident that I must write about. We stopped at Little Israel a diorama of the country on our way back to Haifa. After walking through with our guide we sat down next to a group of what we judged to be young Palestinian boys. Parrot Pop struck up a conversation with one boy translating to the others talking about baseball, where we were from etc., an innocent conversation. A few moments later the girls in the group (they had been under a tree and we were under the café canopy) came over and wanted to see what was going on, the young boys were obviously having a fun time with this American tourist. The leader/teacher came over and with an attitude said “they don’t understand” and started to shoo them away, but not before Parrot Pop shook hands with the boys. Yes, they did understand…how sad.
EXPECTATIONS OF OUR TOURS
At our age we couldn’t do it all and we opted many times to just sit in the van while our fellow passengers went further to see more, visit a museum, etc. We have found that some of our experiences during the tours were of connecting with perhaps with a shop owner, petting a dog and just talking to people as we went along.
We required a wheelchair to disembark and the meeting area had been set up with several wheelchairs and stewards all set to take you down with no waiting for a chair to be returned as on other lines.
Here is where I knew that the Equinox was special. As we were disembarking the ship it was pouring rain and each group leaving the ship to meet up with their van or bus was accompanied by a steward with an umbrella and stayed with until they found their vehicle
Celebrity Cruise lines continues to be our line of choice and it’s for some of the little things. I judged that this cruise with many of the cruisers doing back to back to the US and the majority were repeat Celebrity cruisers.
Daily there are the newspapers available for Americans, Canadians, French, Spanish and German. The revolving rack was a popular spot in the early afternoon and for Parrot Pop to find the baseball scores.
For those who are finding their favorite cruise lie is no longer putting a chocolate on the pillow, Celebrity still is and it doesn’t send me over the edge if I don’t have one… a towel animal.
Mainly, the service and caring of the staff of Celebrity and particularly the Equinox whether you are asking questions, passing in the halls or need assistance they are there.
Parrot Pop and I both knew that this would most likely be the last port intensive cruise that we would take and sadly we both agree now. We started off many years ago going to the ruins in Peru when they were opened to the public, cruising down the Amazon last year and through cruising many spots that we had never dreamed about in our 55 years of marriage including on this last cruise Israel, the Pyramids, Rome, etc.. all things in our “bucket list” and more.
Lastly, a ship reflects the Master and in this case it is Captain Bouzakis and although we have never had the pleasure of meeting the Equinox and it’s staff appear to be the happiest crew we have ever met in our many, many years of cruising.
Thank you Celebrity and to the Captain of the Equinox and his crew for making this such a very special experience.
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CELBRITY EQUINOX-Sophisticated, Subtle, Warm and Welcoming