Celebrity Equinox – First Look
Written by: David Beers
“Here Comes the Sun was the theme song for the inaugural festivities introducing Celebrity Equinox to the cruising world in Southampton, UK, July 29, 2009.
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 less than a year ago. Now with the addition of Celebrity Equinox there are two of these identical sister ships, two masterpieces of design and décor.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to the naming ceremony for Celebrity Equinox on July 29 in Southampton, U.K. The ceremony was followed by a two-night cruise for the media and cruise industry. While a two-night familiarization cruise is hardly enough time to gain a full perspective of the entire Equinox experience, it was enough for me to get a good look at the ship – mostly trying to divine which of the best assets of Solstice were maintained and which were unique to Equinox.
What did I find? When Celebrity Cruises set out to design the Solstice class it was their first new class in ten years. They knew they needed something different yet enduring, and contemporary yet classic at the same time. The ship needed to appeal not only to today’s cruiser, but also for years, possibly decades to come.
In the end very little about Equinox is different from Solstice, which only means that very little needed to be changed. For the most part this ship is a near perfect duplicate of the truly classic Solstice design.
The Equinox Differences
As with most Celebrity cruise ship classes, once they create a new design they then recreate the original design two or more times with little or no changes at all to the basic superstructure. The ships of any given class largely pin their identity on just a few unique décor variations usually in a few nightspots or restaurants. This is mostly true for the Equinox too. Equinox has only a few very subtle differences.
The first Equinox difference is on the pool deck called “Solstice Deck.” It holds 100 or more lounge chairs than the same deck on Celebrity Solstice. This addition of deck chairs will be added to all subsequent Solstice-class ships, and chances are that it will be retrofitted to the Celebrity Solstice sometime in the future.
Why more deck chairs? The first sister ship has the world’s first large patch of real grass growing on a deck, known as “The Lawn.” Because “The Lawn” takes up a lot of outdoor deck space there was less room for deck chairs. It has actually been the subject of some complaints on Solstice, and to Celebrity’s credit they chose to make the change on Equinox. It was not previously announced however, and may continue to be a point of knowledge for cruise ship trivia buffs.
Speaking of the lawn – how controversial can a patch of grass be? Since it is a rather large lawn growing high atop a steel cruise ship it is quite unique. But is it an attraction? Maybe not in the sense that it does anything any other patch of grass can’t do, but they play bocce ball, croquet and are hold real picnics with baskets and blankets and all the trimmings except ants. You can have your fried chicken and iced tea while sitting on real grass watching the Isle of Wight pass by your starboard side. I think that is pretty cool.
Generally, the pool deck on Equinox is more like a spa than a typical cruise ship pool area. As with Solstice there are two main pools, one deeper than the other. There is no loud music, pool games or waiters pushing buckets of beer. The pool bar is so understated it can almost be missed. The Solarium area is a fully glass-enclosed pool with a distinctly modern decor. There is ivy growing up the steel bars at the deep end, another minor difference from what is seen on Solstice.
The Equinox Art Collection
In our quest to discover assets unique to Equinox, much was made of the extensive art collection onboard. When Celebrity Cruises was originally formed by the Chandris family of Greece over twenty years ago– John Chandris placed high importance on having ships filled with unique pieces of art – allowing his wife Christina to assemble the collection for each ship until Celebrity Cruises was acquired by Royal Caribbean International in 1997.
The Equinox collection features many interesting paintings, photos, sculptures, and other objets d’art from the former Celebrity Galaxy, which has now been transferred to TUI cruises (also in the Royal Caribbean family). Celebrity removed the art from Galaxy prior to the ship leaving the fleet and had the collection in storage.
Personally, I thought the entire art collection on Equinox was perfectly understated and “just right” in terms of selection and placement. Each piece seemed to enhance the ambience of the surrounding space without overwhelming it, serene and elegant at every turn.
I heard several people remark on how peaceful and comfortable every room felt aboard the ship. One guest, who had never been on a cruise ship at all before, complimented the design team on the sense of well-being Equinox invokes.
“Nothing abuses my senses,” he said, and I have to agree, noting that the same has also been said about Solstice. These are classy and tasteful ships, which some prospective cruisers may find just a little sedate; although I have to say I didn’t hear anyone actually expressing this thought.
Celebrity Solstice-class – What You Need to Know
Celebrity has always embraced a European feel in their cruises and this is perhaps kicked up a notch on the Equinox and the Solstice class in general. Expect to see more than a few men wearing sports coats on smart casual nights. Expect to see more, men in tuxes and ladies in gowns, on formal nights. Wandering around Equinox in the evening wearing shorts and flip-flops will definitely be frowned upon.
I was able to try a new class of staterooms for Celebrity first available on the Solstice class, an AquaClass balcony cabin. These 192 square foot cabins are meant to offer a more sensual experience with special herb-infused teas and aromatherapy misters available in every room. There is an iPod player and a special shower with the standard showerhead several adjustable jets. There is plenty of storage space and a larger than usual safe, stored in a drawer by the refrigerator.
Celebrity has extolled the accomplishments of “Celebrity’s Leading Ladies” –five ladies with various cruise and travel backgrounds who advised the company on stateroom design for the Solstice class. Celebrity backed their research into various hotel and cruise ship designs to define the perfect cruise ship cabin. For the most part I see the attraction of their influence.
I can’t say I love everything they decided, however. Half of the cabins have the bed right next to the closet rendering it inaccessible when anyone is trying to sleep. The other cabins have the layout reversed, with the bed by the balcony door and the sofa by the closet. This works better.
The Equinox Debut
Since Equinox is a brand new ship the line had their “A Team” onboard, many of the staff and crew coming from Solstice. This is standard procedure for new ships providing a crew already familiar with the ship’s onboard procedures and facilities.
The staff was uniformly excellent, as I expected before I arrived. In my experience, it is a Celebrity hallmark for the staff to be more reserved in their interactions with the passengers, yet efficient in their duties. They are friendly but not to the point of inserting their own personalities into the guest’s cruise experience. This will appeal to some people, while others may prefer more outgoing crewmembers. It is a matter of personal taste.
The food during our short cruise was also consistent with Celebrity standards. The first night we sampled the main dining room. My lamb chops were so succulent and tender I found myself chewing the bones to get the last morsels of goodness. But the sampler plates of dessert met with mixed reviews.
The Oceanview Café buffet area is a cut above previous Celebrity classes. While the nighttime pizza was excellent as expected an ersatz Eggs Benedict for breakfast had corned beef hash instead of ham, a vexing substitution.
Our second night featured dinner in the restaurant Blu – normally reserved for Aquaclass guests but open to any guest for a $5 surcharge. I went with the waiter’s suggestion of pan-fried salmon which was good but not equal to the food or service of the previous night. The ambient noise at our table was a bit distracting. Still, overall the food we sampled on Equinox is sublime, and with reports of excellent repast in the specialty restaurants coming from Solstice there is no doubt Equinox will live up to the promise.
Production Shows – Another Equinox Difference
The entertainment on Equinox is another area where one will find a completely different experience than what is offered on Solstice. The show called “Equinox – The Show” had the entire audience spellbound. It featured strapping yet surprisingly nimble acrobatics within a surreal atmosphere. I’ve never seen anything like it on a cruise ship – definitely different and marvelous. The accompanying orchestra, as well as the other musical groups onboard, were all excellent performers.
In the end I have to say I was quite impressed by the Celebrity Equinox. If I were a ship designer I feel it is what I would aspire to build. The ship is easy to navigate, with a flow and dimension to the public rooms that promotes a sense of intimacy despite what is actually a very large ship. Reading about the length, beam, and tonnage of Equinox, it is hard to correlate the actual experience of being onboard.
Equinox actually feels more like a small ship experience. The design team was not only accomplished their mission, they exceeded it. What was that old Celebrity slogan… ”exceeding expectations”? They don’t use that slogan anymore, but they are still fulfilling it.
Equinox will sail a series of Mediterranean cruises this summer and fall, and then move to Fort Lauderdale for alternating eastern and western Caribbean runs. I hope to be aboard one of them with my family.
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