Charles Greenfield Sails the Sea with Affordable Class
Charles Greenfield is a Miami-based travel writer who has contributed to Travel & Leisure and regional magazines/ newspapers. He also is Cultural Arts Contributor to Artsbeat on WLRN 91.3 FM, South Florida's NPR affiliate, a producer for WLRN Ch. 17's Artstreet, and interviews classical and jazz musicians for the Miami Herald.
After an unnerving bout of inside cabin cruise ship claustrophobia a decade ago I decided to stay on land. But since then the cruise industry has evolved dramatically as a major travel trendsetter with
energy-saving hulls, Vegas-at-Sea theaters and flashy casinos, chic European-style restaurants, and four-star deluxe accommodations with balconies and cabins to relax, breathe the bracing sea air, and luxuriate in the soft morning sunlight. Additionally, in our post-meltdown economy, any vacation now presupposes serious planning and tight budget considerations. With a travel product that includes transportation, security, taxes, room and board, entertainment, and exotic ports of call at a per diem often less than $200 per person, the value of a cruise ship vacation remains nearly unbeatable.
During the summer, I attended an inaugural two-day cruise in the English Channel out of Southampton on the Celebrity Equinox to introduce travel agents and media to the $750 million, 13-deck, 2,850-guest, 1255-crew, 122,000-ton behemoth recently built at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany. An almost exact replica of their vanguard ship, Celebrity Solstice, launched last November from Ft. Lauderdale's Port Everglades, the Celebrity Equinox offers fewer inside staterooms than other comparable industry vessels – 90 percent of the ship's staterooms display outside views and 85 percent of staterooms feature verandas.
Says Chairman and CEO Richard D. Fain: "When we began to think about a new class of ships for Celebrity, we asked, ‘What should a cruise ship really be today? What is the look that embodies everything Celebrity has become to stand for, but takes it to the next level?'"
The Equinox's spatial configuration sports elegant, sinuous lines with two exhaust funnels instead of the traditional single stack, an efficient curved high bow, and a ducktail-designed stern with "interceptor," all contributing for smoother sailing and fuel economy. An imaginative idea for the upper deck is their Lawn Club, a half-acre of "Creeping Bent" (Agrostis Stolonifera) grass with an automated subsurface drip irrigation system over four miles long. From the verdant expanse sprout a 3-hole putting course, bocce, quoits (ring toss), croquet, the Patio on the Lawn and the Sunset Bar. Another industry "first" is their adjoining Hot Glass Show exhibit with master glassblowers from New York's Corning Museum of Glass. Daily shows feature three "gaffers" who take gobs of molten glass from three ovens at 2100 degrees F. and spin and shape them with special tongs, irons and blowpipes. Their next-door studio provides additional information on the glass-making process and showcases finished products.
My outside cabin was a cocoon of comfort minutes away from the beehive of activities onboard. I slept like a baby in my 192-square-foot stateroom with a sliding glass door to the 53-sqaure-foot veranda and its two reclining deck chairs and table, the perfect location for reading or gazing at a sunset. The handsome room shouts ergonomic flair with its blonde modular furniture, subtle curves, plush rounded-cornered queen bedding and multiple pillows, and 32-inch flat-panel Samsung TV featuring music selections, previews, room service ordering, and photo and shore excursion purchases. Not surprisingly, the bathroom hints at spa features like the Hansgrohe Comfort Plus showerhead and jetted body wash, a convenient shaving foot rail in the shower, and fog-free mirror.
In the 130 double occupancy AquaClass staterooms on Deck 11 forward and aft, guests have free access to the AquaSpa relaxation room and Persian Garden, complimentary dining in Blu, one of the four specialty or surcharge restaurants on board, the Spa Concierge, an upgraded room service menu, and continental breakfast at Blu from 7-9 am. AquaSpa by Elemis, located on the bow, plays with the theme of Greek Islands like Mykonos and displays deep blue and muted white tones.
Treatments range from a herbal poultice massage that applies special oils to joints and muscles to their "24-Karat Gold Facial" that combines medicinal plants, Rose Quartz, and a 24k gold leaf mask for a rebalanced complexion and clarified skin texture. Besides botox treatment, acupuncture, teeth whitening, cellulite reduction, and personal fitness training, there's even a "lash and brow bar" to enhance and highlight facial features.
Cruise cuisine has always been an enigma. How does a floating hotel with almost 3,000 people plus crew manage to coordinate so many dishes, vary their menus and maintain high standards? On the Celebrity Equinox formal and casual eating intertwine successfully. Hotel designer Adam Tihany's (Jean Georges in New York, Aureole in Las Vegas, London's Mandarin Bar) second cruise ship creation is the Celebrity Equinox's two-level, Silhouette dining room (Deck 4), a grand Hollywood-style space that draws all eyes to its splendid central chandelier and iridescent glass wine tower. Specialty restaurants (Deck five) include: Tuscan Grille with Kobe steaks and Napa Valley wines; Silk Harvest with Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese dishes backed up by sake and Asian-style martinis; Blu and its light Mediterranean dishes; and Murano, a formal, classic French dining room with Riedel stemware, bone china and fine silverware.
The Oceanview Café (Deck 14) serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in a clean and airy setting of various serving stations offering oven-baked pizzas, fresh pastas, salad bar, fruit dishes, chef specials, grilled meats and chicken, made-to-order sandwiches, dessert assortments, ice cream, and two large coffee/tea and soda dispenser stations. Poolside on the same level the Mast Grill & Bar serve casual munchies like tacos and nachos or burgers and chicken wings. Inside you can also snack on crepes, soups, salads, and light meals at Bistro on Five or cross over to the opposite windows and enjoy terrific pastries, coffee or gelato at Café al Bacio & Gelateria. The AquaSpa Café serves healthy dishes and fruit smoothies under the Solarium near the bow.
Entertainment can heat up on deck four in Fortunes Casino with 16 tables and 275 slots. Among a dozen bars and lounges on board sip one out of 100 varieties at the nearby Martini Bar or pair vodka and caviar at Crush.
The ship hosts 18 shopping venues and an Art Gallery. Also, explore the quantity and quality of public art on display in the stairs, corridors and staterooms. On deck five the 1,115-seat Equinox Theater utilizes the broadest section of the ship's bow for its magnificent "Theater in the Round" that projects 20 feet beyond the proscenium arch. Former Cirque du Soleil acrobat/aerialist Michael McPherson produces "Equinox – The Show," a fantasy show of bizarre creatures that levitate and fly while others perform acrobatic stunts. Other shows are: "Limelight – The Dream of Broadway," and "Remix," with vocal and dance performances. Throughout the ship live entertainment includes a guitarist, string quartet, big band music, jazz trio, pianist, a steel pan virtuoso, an a cappella group, and pop singers.
To end my tour I indulged in gastronomy at Murano. Like a fashionable Parisian Michelin-star restaurant, the staff, supervised by Lorenzo Davidoiu, synchronizes splendidly with top-notch professionals. The earth color décor is sumptuous with discrete banquettes and a private dining room off the entrance. For appetizers they offered escargot tortellini cooked with a fricassee of morel mushrooms, pancetta lardons, roasted garlic-parsley foam, and freshwater crayfish, langoustine and mussel bisque. Salad preparations were imaginative like phyllo baked Anjou pear and Roquefort cheese with Lolla Rosso lettuce, spicy pecans and Port wine reduction. Entrées have classical appeal: Dover sole Véronique, Maine lobster en croûte, pan seared turbot, shellfish and saffron risotto, and sautéed Muscovy duck breast. Both the sole and the lobster are prepared tableside.
After the very satisfying dinner I strolled on the top deck past the Solarium bowside to sip a cognac in the Sky Observation Lounge. Above, the view of the celestial order was incomparable. After all, I was due for a sea change in these wide, open spaces!
Celebrity Equinox sails out of Port Everglades on 10- and 11-night "Ultimate Caribbean" voyages
through 2010 to destinations like Grand Cayman, Barbados, St. Thomas, Roatan, Belize City, and Cartagena. In April the newest ship Celebrity Eclipse departs from Southampton. A perfect overnight can be conveniently found at the Hilton London Heathrow Airport with its own skywalk off Terminal 4 to daytrip London before or after the cruise.