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August 19, 2009

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                    Celebrity Equinox

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Top o’ the morning to you from Southampton, England. My trip to the city that spans two continents, which I mentioned last week, will have to wait one more week because I decided to make a quick diversion. You see, last month I attended two inaugural cruise ship sailings: Celebrity’s Equinox and Seabourn’s Odyssey. Since these ships are brand spanking new and everyone wants to get the lowdown on them before booking their tickets, I thought I’d better get them out sooner rather than later. Although the Odyssey was released first, we’ll begin with Equinox since it wasn’t a multi-destination sailing and thus doesn’t require as much detail. Ready? Let’s go!

We left off last week from The Grosvenor House Hotel in Mayfair. From there, I needed to make my way to the Heathrow Marriott so I could catch a chartered bus for the 90-minute drive to Southampton to take part in the Equinox’s naming ceremony. The fastest way for Natalie and me to get there was to take a £9 taxi to Paddington. Trying to make some more de niro in this sluggish economy, our driver offered us a trip to the airport for just £35. That’s a great deal since usually the cab fare is at least double that. But we’d pre-purchased tickets on Heathrow Express (one-way cost is £16.50), which takes just 15 minutes for the nonstop train to make it to the airport. An aside: This was the first time I’d seen a sign in a London taxi that said the driver accepted euros. When I asked if he took U.S. dollars, too he said, “Sorry, mate.” Ouch. That hurt.

The dumbest thing I ever did was take Heathrow’s Hoppa Bus. It’s a complete joke and it’s not the first time I’ve been burned by these bastards. Not only did it require a long walk from the train to the bus stop but it took Natalie and me 30 minutes to get to the hotel, which is just a couple of miles away. And it wasn’t because of traffic. Rather, the driver kept making stops at the other terminals. On top of that, it cost a whopping £4 per person. A taxi probably would have been the same price definitely would have been quicker. FYI: If you don’t mind being taken for a ride, you better have some British pounds handy because the Hoppa Bus doesn’t accept payment by credit card. They do give change, though.

Did you know Southampton, England’s nickname is The Gateway to the World? That’s thanks to all the ships that began their journey from here -- including the Titanic. Southampton, England is nothing like Southampton, New York. It’s very industrial. The port city is located on the south coast of England, about 62 miles (100 km) southwest of London. To be fair, I didn’t see much but my one pleasant memory was sitting on the deck before the ship departed, looking out towards the opposite side of the river. It reminded me a lot of the days I used to sit on my grandmother’s balcony, overlooking the Norwalk River in Connecticut.

Last November I went on my first cruise (Celebrity Solstice) in almost 10 years. I wasn’t sure how I would like it because I don’t like being confined to one place, which is likely why I travel every week. My cruise fears were probably similar to yours (if you have them). The idea of being trapped on a rocking ship in close quarters for days on end with people you don’t know, sitting at the same table and eating a never-ending stream of sub-par buffet food is just not appealing. On top of that, there’s the fear of being seasick beyond control and not being able to feed my Internet addiction without paying an unseemly amount of money. Well, that used to be enough to keep my feet on the ground. But after that Celebrity cruise, I was hooked. Seriously.

What do I love about cruising? First of all, it’s the best value out there. Not only is your lodging included but so is all the food (including room service), non-alcoholic drinks and entertainment. There’s so much to do (and not to do, if you prefer) and you get to see a number of destinations without schlepping your bags all over the place. You pack and unpack just once.

We boarded the ship around noon, even though we didn’t depart until early evening. TIP: If you’re traveling from out of town, it’s always a good idea to fly in to your departure city at least a day before your ship sails, just in case there are flight delays, cancellations or anything else that might hold you up.

Since this was a special two-day cruise, there weren’t any porters around curbside but checking in was still easy since we had rollers. To get into the massive check-in hall, we had to show our IDs and cruise documents before going through the airport-like security. Although the line was snaking, the actual check-in didn’t take long since they had an army of agents who gave us our room keys, which also acted as our ID and charge card.

There was one more document check. It was similar to getting on a plane but instead of walking down a dark ramp, it was the complete opposite. To get on the ship required a long walk up a beautiful, enclosed glass ramp. The whole time, my eyes were fixed on this $750 million, 122,000-ton mammoth ship, which made my heart begin to flutter, then beat faster with excitement. The moment I stepped onto one of the 13 guest decks, I realized that whatever amount of time anyone books on this cruise ship, it won’t be enough! It’s the same feeling as when you get a new car.

The passengers on this cruise were industry folks, many of whom were on the November sailing of Solstice. When Natalie and I stepped aboard Equinox, we both did a double take. Was this just like the plush Celebrity Solstice ship we’d been on in November or were we having déjà vu? We weren’t, as this Celebrity cruise ship is the same length and dimensions as its sister Solstice. If you haven’t heard, Celebrity’s Solstice raised the bar on luxury cruises last year and I didn’t realize that Equinox, the newest addition to their fleet, was basically the same ship except for some minor interior design tweaks. Not only are the measurements the same but it too holds up to 2,850 passengers and 1,255 crew from all over the world.

DID YOU KNOW? Four of the top 10 "Top Cruise Ships in the World" in the large-ship category were by Celebrity, as voted by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler (February 2009 readers’ poll).

FYI: It seems fitting to me that the Merriam-Webster definition of Equinox is: “Either of the two times each year (as about March 21 and September 23) when the sun crosses the equator and day and night are everywhere on earth of approximately equal length.” Well, the Celebrity Solstice and Celebrity Equinox are equal in length, too! They will be joined by three more sisters; Celebrity Eclipse in 2010, and ships yet to be named in 2011 and 2012.

How is Equinox different from Solstice? As I mentioned, there are minor changes including cosmetic changes to the main dining room (including a name change), Silk Harvest restaurant and the Martini Bar. In addition The Equinox Theater has new shows and the Sun Deck was enlarged so it can accommodate 100 more deck chairs. Another addition you will notice is that Equinox has 500-plus pieces of modern art from prominent artists like Roy Lichtenstein. There are even a number of art pieces that came from Celebrity’s former ship Galaxy (it’s been transferred to sister line TUI Cruises). But without a doubt, this ship has intriguing art every place you look.

Celebrity Life” is a new program being rolled out on this Solstice-Class ship but will be fleet wide by November. It’s a series of programs built on Celebrity’s pillars of dining, enrichment and wellness. The three distinct program categories are: "Savor," "Discover," and "Renew." “Savor” entails eight new wine enrichment events, six spirits and mixology tastings and more than seven different interactive programs for guests, hosted by the ship's Executive Chef and team. “Discover” program courses range from learning Photoshop on your computer to learning a new language with Rosetta Stone. “Renew” offers an expansion of spa and wellness services designed to help guests feel better, live longer, and look younger through treatment, seminars and workshops.

Upon arrival, guests are greeted with a welcome drink (Champagne or O.J.) and porter assistance if needed. The entrance is near the center of the ship, which is jaw-droppingly impressive. It has a glorious 12-deck atrium featuring a suspended ficus tree in a huge pot with sparkling Swarovski crystals shimmering all around it. It’s a real show-stopper! Written out in those same beads is the ship’s theme: Here Comes the Sun, which runs down the side of the wall in between the set of four fast glass elevators that face each other, quietly whisking passengers up and down the decks of the 15-story ship. There are other elevators as well and two separate sets of stairs. FYI: My rule on cruises is to always take the stairs unless I have bags since it offsets the unruly amount of food I eat. (In case you haven’t noticed, I have no self control!)

Near the main lobby there always seemed to be live entertainment. Whenever I passed by, I admired the performers who filled the air not only with their music but with their elegance as well. Throughout the ship, there was tasteful live musical entertainment but the highlight was one of the three shows that take place in the theatre. When I heard it was a Cirque Du Soleil-type show called Equinox – The Show, I didn’t think I’d be too impressed. But when I peeked in to see what it was like, I was immediately sucked in by the set, costumes and extraordinary talent. I ended up staying for the whole performance. Seriously, at one point I thought I was in Las Vegas. In fact, I was sitting next to travel guru Peter Greenberg and he concurred. The Equinox Theatre is equally impressive. The theatre itself is sprawling, the chairs have air conditioning vents in the seatbacks, the armrests have drink holders and there’s plenty of legroom.

As the elevator initially whisked me to my floor with bags in tow, I looked out through the glass elevator walls at each floor that went by in amazement. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was as if I was playing with one of my sister’s dollhouses that showed the inside of each room. (Is it just social suicide that I’m admitting to playing with my sister’s dollhouse??) Well, Equinox’s life-size dollhouse has a library, a card room (with a slew of Scrabble boards) and a media center (with computers and high-speed Internet). The seventh floor is deemed Team Earth and is dedicated to the planet just as it was on Solstice. There are digital touch-screen displays that show brilliant nature photography, museum-quality exhibits and educates guests on how they can help to save the planet. The only thing different was that it had a smaller illuminated globe, which was a bit disappointing. But not disappointing is Equinox’s own eco-friendly efforts.

I was pleased to learn that just like Solstice Celebrity, Equinox also uses solar power. They have 216 solar panels throughout the ship and the energy it collects is enough to operate 7,000 of the vessel’s 25,000 energy efficient LED lights. Additionally, Equinox has a unique hull design and coating to make the ship more fluid dynamic (this means less fuel consumption and carbon emissions). They have recycling bins throughout the ship and each room has high-glazed glass windows, which reduces heat transfer and filters out 99.9 percent of UV rays. The most impressive feature is that it has an advanced wastewater purification (AWP) system; this means that they can treat all wastewater to almost drinking-water quality before discharging it into the ocean. They say it costs $100 million to install on all of their 10 ships and that it has no real financial return, but they do it to minimize their environmental footprint.

FYI: You won’t get lost on this enormous ship since there are large lighted map displays all around the ship, especially by the elevators, to point out exactly where you are.

The rooms on Equinox aren’t tiny with a little porthole to peek out of. These are more than generous in size with not only a floor-to-ceiling window but also a sliding glass door onto a private balcony. That’s right – a balcony! And that’s not out of the norm either. In fact, there are 1,426 staterooms (that’s 85%) that have verandas and 90% of all rooms have an ocean view! The decks have two chairs and a table and the room was pretty much perfect. The only difference I noticed from Solstice is that the queen-sized bed was closer to the window, which is smart. This way, you don’t hear the hallway traffic as much and can fall asleep to the gentle sound of the waves if you prefer.

I later read that the designers also moved the safe from the closet to the cabinets to allow for a bit more hanging space. BTW: The are two main storage areas: under the bed and the closet. The closet contains hangers, two waffle cotton robes and life preservers, which passengers need for the mandatory muster drill; every cruise has one. TIP: In the event of a real emergency, you should have your medications and warm clothes ready to go.

Other room amenities include a pullout sofa, a small working desk, mini-fridge, 32-inch flat screen TV with all kinds of live satellite channels (CNN, ESPN, Cartoon Network, Travel Destination Network, Gulliver’s Travel, Shore Excursions) and live GPS tracking -- like on a plane and it gives speed, wind rates and a webcam. The TV is powered by Nanonation CommandPoint software and it also allows guests to check email, book services, excursions, preview menus, learn about the ship, order room service or even checkout and purchase photos. It even offers a variety of free on-demand movies, music (over 5,000 songs) and several pay-per-view options, too. But who has time to play around with the TV when there are all kinds of things to do on the ship? Including getting a treatment at the beautiful spa or working off some calories at the large gym with inspiring sea views or the dance club.

Of course, I can’t forget about the bathroom. That too is much larger and nicer than I’d originally anticipated. It features a beautiful mosaic-like tile above the sink, the water pressure is solid and the shower is large enough to fit two people. Just like Solstice, they had a panel of five women, all from different travel backgrounds, help design the room – hence the footrests in the showers for women to shave their legs. The towels are bigger and softer, too. The only negative is the bathroom doorjamb, which is about seven inches high and my first time in there, I tripped and stubbed my big toe on it.

Since the ship winters in the Americas and summers in Europe, there are outlets for both types of electrical adapters. However, the room does lack multiple outlets so be sure to bring a power strip. I use Belkin’s Mini Surge Protector.

This cruise, we got upgraded to a 192-square-foot AquaClass stateroom. There are 130 of them and the big difference is the spa products (lip balm, foot spray, relaxation mist) and the shower. The huge overhead rain showerhead made you forget you were on a ship. And the option-only, Hansgrohe shower tower, featured four waist-high jets, shooting water where you can only imagine! The whole concept behind AquaClass is to offer a soothing, spa-focused ambiance. But to be honest, where my room was positioned I found that hard to believe. Unlike being on the seventh floor, I could hear women in heels walk by on the steel deck above so it was really annoying. Granted, it didn’t happen all the time and because this was a special cruise, women were in heels much more often so it might be a moot point – I’m not sure.

However being on the 11th floor made it a short walk to the ship’s two-story AquaSpa by Elemis where AquaClass guests can bask in unlimited access to the spa’s Persian Garden aromatherapy steam room. This place is a haven as it features heated ceramic lounge chairs and a Relaxation Room, all with panoramic views. In addition, AquaClass guests get unlimited, complimentary access to the ship’s exclusive, Mediterranean-influenced specialty restaurant, Blu, where we had dinner on the last night. I enjoyed my creamy tomato cucumber gazpacho soup, mixed greens and shaved pear salad, sherry glazed pheasant breast and coconut sorbet.

The food is really good and there are all kinds of options. There are 10 dining venues, 14 bars and two discos. Each space has its own style and atmosphere. The main dining room is the two-level Silhouette Dining Room, which serves savory world and continental cuisine. I ate there once and it felt like it belonged inside a modern version of Titanic with its dramatic, two-story glass wine tower. It’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and the only thing it lacked was a grand staircase.

Most of our meals were in the much more casual Oceanview Café and Grill on the 14th floor. They had every kind of food station you can imagine. Create your own pasta, stir fry, salad bars, fresh fruit and the usual buffet fare. The desserts were as incredible as the view and part of this café stays open all night long for those late night snacks – pizza! (Salads and some desserts are also still available.) What’s also cool is that they have workers stationed at each end with huge dispensers of antibacterial hand sanitizer greeting each passenger and making them de-contaminate themselves to greatly minimize the chances of spreading diseases like the swine flu or Norovirus.

Other dining options included Bistro on Five, which specializes in crepes but comes with a $5 per person surcharge. Three more restaurants also have surcharges; the highest is $30. Next door to Bistro on Five is Café al Bacio & Gelateria, which is an upscale coffeehouse with tasty gelato. There’s a $3 surcharge here but the ice cream shop upstairs at the Oceanview Café is free. Other restaurants include Murano (modern continental cuisine), Blu (for AquaClass guests), Silk Harvest Restaurant (exotic Asian fusion) and Tuscan Grille (Italian flair with steaks).

There was about a 20-minute period when I really felt like we were out on the ocean as it got bumpy. But it was nothing crazy and I didn’t see or hear of anyone getting sick. Nor did I see anyone wearing sea-bands, motion sickness patches or taking pills. But if you are prone to motion sickness, it might not be a bad idea to stock up on whatever remedy works for you. TIP: Some people swear by green apples or ginger as a remedy for motion- or sea-sickness. If you'd rather avoid drugs like Dramamine, give this natural alternative a try! Natalie wanted me to mention that the rooms don’t have irons. Umm, that’s because they are a fire hazard! So if you need to get something pressed, allow ample time when you call the laundry service and remember, it’s not free. FYI: There’s no smoking in-room or on your balcony. I think that’s great but I’m sure the British weren’t too happy as most of their contingent on the boat were smoking up a storm!

Again, there’s so much to do on this ship; from laying out in the sun on one of the comfy lawn chairs, wicker ottomans or hammocks to running around the track (yeah, right!). Of course, the pool area is fabulous and a focal point. There’s an outdoor pool with several hot tubs and another one in the indoor solarium. Both pools are surrounded by a cool waterfall or fountain, with water that dances and is lit up but I didn’t spend much time out there because cruising around the Channel Islands was quite chilly.

Up top on Deck 15 is the Lawn Club. Get this: just like its sister ship, it has over a half-acre of real grass with a full-time groundskeeper. People play bocce (lawn bowling), croquet or practice their putting. It’s situated next to the hot glass show, which features live, narrated glassblowing demonstrations provided by glassmakers from The Corning Museum of Glass (there’s also a shop so you can take home a souvenir). Both the glass show and lawn club were cruise industry firsts.

Lucky for the fish I didn’t play hoop on the basketball court on the 15th deck but I was tempted to go by the Fun Factory, which is designed for kids aged three to 12. It has arcade games, Wii and most importantly, adult supervision. Although Celebrity doesn’t focus on kids as much as other ships, it does have an "X-Club" youth program, which is broken into five tiers: Toddler Time (under three years old), Ship MatesSM (ages three to five), Celebrity CadetsSM (ages six to eight), EnsignsSM (ages nine to 11) and Admiral TeensSM (ages 12 to 17). All the programs are available year-round from 9am each morning, or half an hour before arriving in each port.

For those looking for retail therapy, there are 19 shops including a duty free store with everything you need, including seasick remedies. Next-door is the Fortunes Casino, which is huge and plush just like Solstice’s -- my Dad said that was one of the nicest he’s ever seen. I’m not sure about that but it is definitely tasteful and it has all the major games to try your luck on, just like Vega$! In fact, I actually hit on Roulette and quit while I was ahead so I made money on this trip.

This sailing was for the ship’s naming, a ceremony attended by all the big-wigs like the CEO and the ship’s Godmother, Nina Barough, who founded the Walk the Walk charity 12 years ago when just 13 women power walked the New York City Marathon in their bras to raise money and awareness for breast cancer research. This was even before Nina was diagnosed with breast cancer herself. This one-time fundraising effort turned into a thriving multi-million dollar charity (raising over $75 million) and Prince Charles is a major supporter. The ceremony began with a group of Scottish bagpipers, followed by beautiful renditions of God Save the Queen and Star Spangled Banner, blessings by a priest and rabbi, words from the CEO and a touching speech by the Godmother before she blessed it and cut the pink ribbon, symbolic of breast cancer awareness. The token champagne bottle (created by the Corning Museum) was tied to the pink ribbon and dangled high above the ship. The other end of the ribbon was brought in by an aerial acrobat (showing off the theatre’s capabilities). Once it was cut, we watched on the big screen as the ribbon flew through the ship and the bottle smashed against the ship’s funnel for the time-honored tradition.

When the Internet is working (the service went in and out in the room), Celebrity charges anywhere between 38 and 65 cents a minute for Wi-Fi, depending on if you buy an Internet package deal or not. Each room has a keyboard that’s also the remote control for the TV. It’s kind of odd but those without laptops can access the Internet from the TV. There are also dedicated computers in the Online@Celebrity center.

As you can see, the ship is huge and so magnificent, that you don’t even feel like you are on cruise. That is, until you stare out the window and see the amazing view. You should videotape your own expression when you open up those blackout curtains in your room on your very first morning. It’s then that you will be treated to one of the most incredible ocean views ever. Equinox and Solstice feel more like a five-star Vegas hotel than a ship. There’s so much to see and do, I didn’t have time to do all of it.

Without a doubt, cruising is an incredible bargain, especially since your room, food and entertainment are included in the price. Keep in mind that Equinox and Solstice are a premium cruise and they charge about 20% more than regular cruise lines but you won’t be disappointed. Check out what my good friend Anita Durham Potter (check out her website, who was also on the cruise reports: Equinox is sailing in a series of 13-and14-night “Ancient Empires” cruises through October. Fares for 13- and 14-night cruises begin at $2,099 per person. On November 5, the ship will sail a transatlantic voyage to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where it will begin a series of alternating 10- and 11-night “Ultimate Caribbean” voyages through April 2010. Prices begin at $1,199 per person. All aforementioned prices are based on inside staterooms, double occupancy. For more information, call your travel agent, dial 1-800-437-3111 or visit

Here's a four-minute Johnny Jet video of my trip on Celebrity Equinox. We also have all the Johnny Jet videos ever made on YouTube.

Next week we head to another city to set sail yet again, this time on Seabourn’s new ship Odyssey.

*PLEASE tell us what you think of this week's newsletter! Note: This trip was sponsored in part by Celebrity Cruises.

Copyright 2009 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


Bus To Southampton


Almost There


Port of S.H.




Friendly Agents


Woo Hoo!




Welcome Drink






My Room




My Balcony




Aqua Shower


Remote Control


Present Location


Muster Drill




Make Your Own Pasta




Ice Cream!


Different Floors



Old Galaxy Art Work


Crew Member


Naming Cermony


Ship's Godmother


Bringing In The Ribbon


Cutting The Pink Ribbon




Silhoutte Dining Room


What a View


1st Course










Lawn Club


Hot Glass Show


One of the 14 Bars


Sky Lounge


Tons of Lounge Chairs


Gelato Time


Hammock Time


Nail/Hair Salon


Persian Garden


Live Music Everywhere


More Music


Table At Blu


View From Blu


Blu Appetizer


Blu Dessert


Equinox Show






Casino Time




We Have A Winner!


Cash Out


Qassar Dance Club


Late Night Snack


  • I have been a long time reader of your newsletters and think that they are fantastic! Thank you for your dedication to your travel newsletters. Sincerely, Richard C - Seattle, Washington.

  • Very nice London diary. Only one correction. The Oyster Card is no way as good a buy as the London Visitor Travelcard. Katharine L - Swanton British Travel Service, Wilmington, DE 19803

  • That story about London is so fabulous I almost cried!!!! Thank you so much for the great work. I just got back from there yesterday, and I am so in love with that city. If I could choose one city to live in (price being no object), it would be London or Paris for sure! Paula B – Alexandria, Virginia

  • LOVE the London story! :) The Grosvenor House is really wonderful. Makes me miss it so much! Elizabeth C - Washington, DC

  • I enjoy following your travels on Facebook! All the food looks SO good! :) Georgia T - Ormond Beach, FL

  • We love Les Miserables! Barbara M -

  • This week’s newsletter was particularly interesting. Having been to London many times (and my husband is from there), your words brought us there for another visit – even if was only in our minds! Thank you. Hmmm, the only city on two continents? Must be visiting Istanbul. Looking forward to it. Jackie and Dennis R - Bellingham, WA

  • Thank you for sharing this story. I have been to many countries, but not yet to Barcelona. I will certainly be more cautious when I do go. WHY did you not have the cab pick you up in front of the place you were staying? Sincerely. Dolly B.

  • A website that I've known about for several years and found very helpful for Barcelona esp. (as well as travel outside the US in general). It was/is called something like "Street Scams in Barcelona" and was formerly on its own (long site). But it's migrated and expanded to elsewhere, basically, where there's also more general info. It might be worth adding these URLs to the feedback info you posted so people can check out the info on their own. Old site, but still worth a look because of the way it's done New site M.Q. -

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