Chronological / Cruises / Europe / Food / Island Nation / Wines & Spirits

Cruising to Greek Aegean Gems on Celebrity Equinox

For my hubby, Jim, and me, our Mediterranean summer would not be complete without a visit to Greece. Several ships ply the islands, but Equinox’s Eastern Mediterranean itinerary attracted us the most because it called at many of our favorite Mediterranean ports. Positive reviews on the ship’s interior design, staff service, cuisine and entertainment also influenced our decision.

Celebrity Equinox makes port call at breathtaking Santorini (Photo by J. Freed)

Celebrity Equinox makes port call at breathtaking Santorini (Photo by J. Freed)

Equinox’s Mediterranean itinerary rich with history and visual impact
The itinerary provided guests opportunities to experience the time-tested grandeur of the Parthenon in Athens as well as to soak in the beauty of Grecian Aegean gems –Santorini, Mykonos and Rhodes, our favorites on the program.

Also on the agenda was the chance to tour Kusadasi’s archaeological treasure, Ephesus–that is, if the enticing goods in the main town’s Oriental Bazaar do not lure you first and hold you “hostage” until the ship sails off.

Before returning to Rome, a city that doesn’t need any introduction, guests could experience a day in one of Naples’ renowned sites: Capri, Sorrento, Pompeii, Herculaneum or Vesuvius. And in Messina, Sicily, which was visited early on the cruise, guests could spend their time touring the town and be entertained at noon by the moving figurines in the Cathedral’s belfry. Or, they could jaunt to the lovely hilltown of Taormina for exquisite views of the Mediterranean Sea.

Legendary Greek islands
While relaxing in one of Equinox’s lounges, we sat with guests discussing the Greek islands they’d just visited. Each of them voiced the reasons for their preference.

A woman immediately declared, “I loved Santorini and would recommend starting a visit to Greece there. I think it’s the loveliest island in the Aegean,” she continued.

“Why Santorini?” a guy across from me asked.

“The view from Thira, the island’s main town, is stunning and a sight I won’t forget,” the woman replied.

An American-born Greek woman chimed in, “We took the bus to Oia and I’m glad we did. It’s higher than Thira, so its sea views are far more sweeping and spectacular than those in the main town.

Soon, an older Mediterranean-looking chap piped in and said, “There’s something about Santorini that would lure me back. It’s Santorini’s setting…the image that floats through visitors’ minds after their Grecian holiday…..the symbol of Greek’s beauty and wonders.”

A middle-aged woman who’d been waiting to weigh in during the discussion remarked, “I think Mykonos is just as picturesque for different reasons.

Thatched-roof windmills create magic on Mykonos (Photo by J. Freed)

“Its sprawling beaches, maze of narrow, winding alleyways, square-shaped homes and shops in the town center are the island’s goldmines,” she continued.

No one disagreed when the same person stated, “From a distance, the blue doors and windows made me want to explore the town to see what could be glimpsed behind them.”

The Mediterranean-featured man, before sipping his coffee, once again said his piece: “The authentic, thatched-roof windmills in the town are now etched in my brain. They form the magic of Greece, like Santorini’s blue church domes.”

The discussion turned to Rhodes, which a scholarly, bespectacled older man vividly described. “I’m glad I didn’t miss the harbor where the legendary Colossus of Rhodes — one of the seven wonders in the ancient world — once stood. Today, of course, it’s been replaced with two columns topped with deer, but you can still imagine how grand it must have been.

Columns with deer statues in Rhodes mark former site of the ancient Colossus (Photo by J. Freed)

“I also found the Old Town quite a throwback to the medieval ages.” he said. “It’s wonderful that many reminders of the period remain intact. I could just visualize a few thousand Knights of St. John holding out against hundreds of thousands of Turks during the famous siege in the 16th century.”

“It was difficult not to be tempted by the shops there,” a woman voiced. “What do you think of this pendant?” she asked, referring to an eye-catching silver-tone anchor she had purchased in the Old Town.

“We stopped in a local restaurant for some moussaka, kalamares, pasticcio and the feta cheese on the famous Greek salad,” said one of the ladies.

“And for dessert, we loved baklava and yogurt with honey,” someone retorted.

As we all lapsed back into our cruise memories, a waiter brought the group’s ouzo drinks for everyone to wish each other a safe journey home and quick return to Greece.

Professional service a keynote for Equinox’s officers, staff and crew

Captain Apostolos Bouzakis greets guests while Cruise Director Damian looks on (Photo by J. Freed)

With remarkable friendliness and emphasis on communication, Captain Apostolos Bouzakis leads Equinox’s staff and crew members. The master conscientiously kept guests abreast on the weather, itinerary and ship’s position each day.

Enhancing the Captain’s communicative and hands-on leadership style, officers participated at programmed competitions such as “Dancing with the Stripes” and at the ping-pong contest for face to face interaction with guests. During the entire cruise, we saw officers out and about in public areas to offer help to guests who might need any.

With regard to management staff, we were impressed by Hotel Director Raffaele Bernardini’s hospitable nature during a brief visit to his office. During our talk he happily reported how much he appreciated customer feedback and ratings. He proudly told us Equinox has held the top Cruise Critic Award for customer service, cuisine and entertainment for the past two years.

Another valuable Equinox asset is Cruise Director Damian, a Canadian whose cheerleader-type personality, coupled with a fantastic sense of humor, regaled guests at the evening shows.

Food judges at work while Executive Chef Eddie Thomas (back right) and Executive Sous Chefs “Sweet Daddy” and Gianpaolo (left clockwise) wait for the results (Photo by J. Freed)

For foodies like us, the tall and smiling Executive Chef Eddie Thomas was both delightful and entertaining. Eddie showed genuine support for the culinary staff and chefs during their Specialty Restaurant presentations as well as at the entertaining and humor-filled cooking duel between Chefs Gianpaolo and “Sweet Daddy.”

Worth mentioning is that we met Traveling Restaurant Manager, Dominique, during the cruise. Of French origin, the soft-spoken professional emphasized that Celebrity Cruises continually aims towards culinary perfection through a customer-oriented Culinary Team, whose publication, Excite the Senses, is recipe and photo-rich to tease and please discerning palates. We found the book true to its name after a brief content review.

Celebrity sommelier explains significance of wine and glass pairing at Riedel Wine Glass & Tasting seminar (Photo by J. Freed)

As food should be paired with wine, kudos go to the sommeliers whose knowledge shone during the wine tasting demonstrations, especially the Riedel Wine Glass Seminar, where they demonstrated the significance of glass shapes and sizes to enhance the aroma and impact of wine on the senses. We were amazed how different the same wine tasted in different glasses.

Celebrity dining a pleasurable affair
Silhouette, the two-storey main dining room, welcomes diners with its floor to ceiling crystal wine tower, conveying an evening of elegance and fine dining style. Pleasant, efficient waiters bring guests selections from the two-sectioned menu consisting of food especially prepared for the evening and of food that could be ordered on any cruise day. We loved the international and continental fares we savored there, especially during the gala dinners — but for a wide-ranging cuisine experience on the vessel, we also scheduled ourselves at the specialty restaurants.

Equinox’s specialty restaurants aim to deliver

-Murano Restaurant

Waiter prepares food by the table at Murano Specialty Restaurant (Photo by J. Freed)

In the venue’s romantic, Venetian-style setting with exquisite glass accents and accessories, we were pampered with tableside preparation.

The Pan Seared Foie Gras that whetted both of our appetites was followed by the Creamy Maine Lobster Bisque, while hubby asked for Quail and Arugula Salad. Continuing with my fish theme, I considered ordering the Lobster but switched to Loup De Mer since its name, along with the Eggplant Mélange, sounded intriguing. The choice was actually a Grilled Sea Bass with remarkable freshness enhanced by the unusual blend of the Balsamic Syrup and Nicoise Sauce that lingered in my mind through the evening.

Hubby opted for the Five-Spice Crusted Cervena Venison Loin with Lingonberry Sauce and a Spinach Salad that he relished to the last bite. Besides, the delectable cut of meat from New Zealand was a rare treat we’ve never seen in the restaurants where we reside.

By the time our dessert arrived, we hardly had room for the Les VI Etoile de Murano for Two. The decadent sweet translated to a selection of favorite bite-size desserts with the chocolate-flavored ones as the prized bits.

“Over the top,” appropriately characterizes our Murano experience, which would definitely take us back to the restaurant again.

-Silk Restaurant

Cheesecake Rainbow Roll with Tropical Fruit dessert blend well with green tea at Silk Specialty Restaurant (Photo by J. Freed)

In an ambiance of red, gold and black interior with fabulous sea views, we experienced a fantastic fusion of hot and cold, mild and spicy Asian-inspired dishes. Apart from the seductive Spring Rolls and the Cream Cheese Wontons, we found the Chicken Lettuce Wraps super tasty and filling as “Small Plates” dishes. From the “Sushi” side of things, the fares were not only beautifully presented, but also had unusual names. The Forbidden Roll sounded mysterious while the names, Equinox Roll, Celebrity Roll, and Solstice Roll, put a smile on our faces.

From the “Large Plates” selection, Orange Chicken and Red Curry Duck not only caressed our palates with exotic flavors but also filled our eyes with artistic food arrangements.

Capping off our exotic Asian experience was the curiously-named Cheesecake Rainbow Roll with Tropical Fruit that blended well with generous servings of green tea.

-Tuscan Grille

Italian style Risotto with Mussels and Shrimps at Tuscan Grille Specialty Restaurant (Photo by J. Freed)

With stunning restaurant sea views filling our eyes, our incredible food affair began with Golden Fried Calamari with Marinara Sauce and Lemon that had just the right amount of breading and crunch. On one hand, I found the Cioppino or Rustic San Francisco Seafood Stew enriched by the Garlic, Tomato and Herb Crostini truly mouthwatering. Jim, on the other hand, found his Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese just the perfect prelude to his main course.

One would think I’d had enough seafood until our waiter brought the Saffron-Flavored Risotto with Mussels and Shrimps that was as scrumptious as it was colorful and worthy of being publicized.

Jim chose the Tuscan-style Blackened Angus Rib Eye Steak with Cajun Spiced Butter, Marinated Pepper and Baked Pecorino. His eyes glistened as he took each bite of the meat, conveying full satisfaction with what was before him.

Ultimately, a creamy Crème Brûlée and refreshing Pop-Rock Berries Gelato brought to a close another divine Celebrity dinner.

Equinox’s entertainment diverse and multicultural
Variety is the spice of life, as the saying goes, and that’s what we experienced nightly in the theater. The marvelous programs ranged from glitzy and glamorous Broadway and Las Vegas-style singing and dancing by the Equinox cast to the riveting, celestial light, sound- and color-filled European style circus. The series of individual performers featured a versatile Italian tenor, an enchanting Italian violinist, a witty Scottish comedian-pianist plus an impressive Danish magician and illusionist. Additionally, a four-man a cappella group captivated guests for their vibrant renditions.

For a touch of Mediterranean culture, a belly dancer performed and the Equinox cast rendered Greek and French style dances. There were also enrichment talks, as well as a Hot Glass Show with skillful glassblowing artisans. Daily films, quizzes, games, dance classes and more also kept us and other guests on our toes and on the move.

Access to Captain’s Club Lounge a great Celebrity perk
Celebrity goes out of its way to reward its loyal guests. Among other benefits, patrons who earn enough points for an Elite membership, can socialize with fellow members within the calm, cool and classy ambiance of the Club, also called Michael’s Club.

Rich-looking mahogany walls, well-supplied bookshelves, as well as traditional furniture in warm-colored upholstery and black leather create the feeling of being in an English library. When time allowed, we took the opportunity of having a light breakfast in the sanctuary and the opportunity to exchange pleasantries with other guests over complimentary pre-dinner drinks and tempting hors d’oeuvres. Friendly and efficient waiters, along with Manager Donna, stood by to ensure guests were well-cared-for within the haven

An Equinox experience is worth repeating, recommending
With the sophistication, attentive service, outstanding food and superb entertainment that Equinox delivered on our Mediterranean cruise, it’s easy to say that hubby and I now look ahead to joining another Celebrity cruise.

As a recommendation to anyone who wants to experience a cruise holiday to utmost satisfaction, visit Celebrity Cruises’ website at www.celebritycruises.com to view their worldwide itineraries and marvelous offers aboard their ships.

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