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A first-time cruise in the Eastern Mediterranean

Celebrity Cruises Mediterranean cruise

As part of my mission to ‘Take 12 Trips’ in 2014, I’m taking at least one trip each month – which can be anything from a local day out to an international trip. So far this year my trips have taken me from the North of England to the souks of Morocco, back to my old hometown of London and on a culinary journey to Catania in Sicily. But June saw me trying out a whole new travel style on my first cruise. My mum and I spent a week sailing through the Eastern Mediterranean, from Venice down to Istanbul, on board the Celebrity Cruises ship Equinox. The route took us through a mix of destinations across Italy, Croatia, Greece and Turkey – from historic walled towns to modern cities, from beach resorts to ancient archaeological sites.

Dubrovnik city walls, Croatia

Looking out over Dubrovnik from the city walls

But before that, the first destination to explore was the ship herself. I’ve often heard cruise ships compared to five-star hotels and there’s definitely some truth in it. The last time I had a cabin on a ship it was a bunk-bed on a ferry across the Channel to France, and this was worlds apart. Our sixth-floor cabin had a big en suite bathroom and a desk and sofa, as well as little touches like bath robes and free room service. And the best bit – our own balcony with two loungers where we could sit looking out to sea.

But what really made it a five-star experience was the staff. There’s almost one staff member for every two passengers, and they come from all over the world (everyone’s name tag has the country they are from listed too which was a nice touch). Throughout the ship every single person we met – whether they were cleaning the rooms or in charge of the entertainment – stopped to smile and ask you how we were. It wasn’t the kind of false-sounding ‘I’m after a big tip’ service you can get sometimes either, instead it felt like everyone genuinely wanted you to have a great time while you were on board.

Celebrity Equinox cruise ship

Celebrity Equinox – our home for the week – from high up in Santorini

There’s a lot more to the ship than your room though – I’ve lived in towns where there was less to do that there was onboard the Celebrity Equinox. The scale of the ship is hard to get across until you get there. The public areas stretch over 12 floors, with glass lifts whizzing people up and down through a light-filled central atrium. There are something like ten restaurants and as many bars, with food and drink available all day, with anything from French-style fine-dining to a burger by the pool. There are indoor and outdoor pools, a spa, casino, library, two-story theatre, glass-blowing studio and even a lawn on the top deck.

As you wander around it’s easy to forget that you’re on a ship – particularly as you can hardly feel it moving. My number one fear about cruising was getting seasick. I picked a route without any full days at sea to break me in gently and we did have pretty calm weather, but even so it was so smooth that one evening we had to double check as we thought we’d completely stopped moving.

Stateroom on Celebrity Equinox cruise ship

Our cabin – or rather stateroom!

There are so many stereotypes of cruising – of being herded around in huge groups, of it being stuffy and formal, or only for old people and honeymooners. But what I found was that there is no such thing as a ‘typical cruise’, you can make it whatever you want it to be. If you want to be independent you can head off and explore on your own, or if you want someone else to do the work you can sign up for excursions. If you want to be healthy you can fill up on salads and hit the gym, or if you want you can eat cake and laze by the pool with a book all day. If you want to be sociable you can share a table at dinner and join in with activities, or if you want some quiet time you can relax on your balcony or in the library.

There’s always something going on on board, but there’s also always somewhere you can escape from it all if you want to. And the people on board were a big mix of ages and nationalities, though the one thing you didn’t find many of was first-time cruisers. Despite asking everyone we met, we couldn’t find any – most people were at least on their fifth time plus, so it looks like it can get addictive.

The pool on board Celebrity Equinox cruise ship

The pool on board the Celebrity Equinox

One of the best things about a cruise is waking up in a new destination every day, with a different view out of the window each morning. That and sitting on our balcony, right at the back of the ship, with a glass of wine as we sailed out of port at the end of the day, watching the land get smaller and smaller behind us. But obviously moving on all the time does come with a few downsides too. We usually got eight or nine hours in each destination, but when you factor in the time getting on and off ship that cuts it down further. And other than the last night, we normally set sail around 6pm so you don’t get to spend the evenings in any of the places you visit. The sudden influx of people can mean some of the destinations get overcrowded too, especially when there is more than one ship in the port at the same time.

Fira in Santorini

White buildings and blue seas in beautiful Santorini

But for us the trip was a great way to try out new destinations. I wouldn’t say I’d ‘done’ Corfu, or Dubrovnik, or the other places we visited. But I did get a taster, and where I fell in love with a place – Santorini, I mean you – I know I’ll be back to see more. The nature of the cruise routes also mean that you get to visit a few places that you might not otherwise have gone to. One of my favourite days of the trip was exploring the site of the original Olympic Games in Greece, but Olympia was never on my travel wish-list and I doubt I’d have ever made it there if it hadn’t been on our route. It’s a good mixture between visiting places you’ve always wanted to see and pushing yourself beyond what you think you like to try something new.

Food on board Celebrity Equinox cruise ship

Too tempting – this is probably why people put on weight on cruises!

So the big question is would I do another cruise? Definitely. It would never be the only way I travel – I’d want to mix it up with slower travel too – but it’ll be an option in the future for sure.  And especially so in areas where it’s not that easy to travel independently, like through the Caribbean islands, or in places like Alaska where the views along the journey are a big part of the trip.

I’ll have lots of posts to come about my cruising experiences on and off the ship – including a Q&A post for first-time cruisers, so if you have a question do let me know. Then next month I’m on another European journey, this time travelling by rail from Strasbourg through the Alps to Vienna. Are you taking part in the #Take12Trips challenge and where are your travels taking you in July?

Sunset over Istanbul, Turkey

The sun sets over Istanbul on our last night on board

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 From cruise skeptic to convert – a first taste of life on the water on a Celebrity Cruises Eastern Mediterranean cruise from Venice to Istanbul – ontheluce.com

Many thanks to Celebrity Cruises for hosting my mum and I on their Venice to Istanbul cruise. All views and opinions are, as always, my own.

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29 Comments

  • Reply
    holidayaddict
    July 3, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    I definitely need to try cruising, but here’s a question now you’ve had a go – is it baby friendly? Part of me wonders whether we’d get a bit of “eye roll” from other passengers on a ship with a wee one, but I also think all the facilities on board would be a plus. Family travel seems to be a whole new ball game!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      July 3, 2014 at 4:30 pm

      It’s a whole new travel world! The flexibility you’ve got on a cruise – eating whenever you like, heading back for a nap if you need it – would make it good for kids. I didn’t see lots of babies around but there are child-friendly facilities like kids clubs and babysitting services available. You might feel a bit out of place in the formal dining room with a baby but there are lots of other options and having seen the amount of stuff new parents have to cart around with them, only having to unpack once would be a bonus!

  • Reply
    unfinishedtravel
    July 3, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    Those desserts look amazing!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      July 4, 2014 at 9:10 am

      They were – I loved that they were only small so you could try a few too!

  • Reply
    Life On My Plate
    July 3, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    I’ve always wanted to go on a cruise, either a Mediterranean one or an Alaskan one. Looks like you made the most of it 🙂
    I still haven’t had the chance to catch up on my Take12Trips posts. May was a local trip to the hills in India, and June was a work trip to Manila. The next trip is at the end of the month and it’s to NYC! Can’t.Hardly.Wait!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      July 4, 2014 at 9:11 am

      It’s not a style of travel that I’d ever really thought of doing but I did really enjoy it. Look forward to reading your Take12Trips updates too – and have a fantastic time in New York, it’s one of my favourite places!

  • Reply
    shazzarob
    July 3, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    Thanks for the info. It looks like a great way as you say, to have a taster of different countries. Im glad you weren’t travel sick.I think sea sickness would be the only thing worrying me.x

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      July 4, 2014 at 9:13 am

      Yes it was a big worry to me too – the last time I was on a ship a couple of years ago it was a really rough Channel crossing and it was awful, so I couldn’t imagine a whole week of that! I was surprised how smooth it was though, you could feel a bit of a juddering from the engines sometimes but not the horrible swaying luckily.

  • Reply
    chadbray
    July 4, 2014 at 6:42 am

    Very nice post and I really the #Take12Trips idea. I work at sea so I always feel a cruise might feel too much like work. But I guess there’s a time and a place. I’m really looking forward to hearing about your rail experience.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      July 4, 2014 at 9:16 am

      Yes I can imagine that it might – you probably want to get away from the sea when you’re on holiday then! It was a bit of a chance of pace as I usually organise all my trips myself but it was a good thing to try out. And do feel free to come join us for the #Take12Trips challenge – it doesn’t have to start in January!

      • Reply
        chadbray
        July 4, 2014 at 8:11 pm

        I’m from South Africa, recently moved to England. We need visas for just about everywhere. Hopefully in the next couple of months we’ll be sorted and give it a try.

  • Reply
    Wendy Kate
    July 4, 2014 at 7:18 am

    Your cabin looked amazing! I did a school cruise (loooong time ago….) and it was nothing like that! We did however, stop at Santorini and i have never forgotten it, I thought it was so beautiful. Really hope to go back there some day. 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      July 4, 2014 at 9:17 am

      It was lovely – as nice as any hotel room, and really well designed so there was lots of storage. Santorini was my favourite stop too, I really didn’t want to leave and have already been looking at flights to get back out there for longer next year! I should have lots of photos coming up once I’ve finished editing them down a bit!

  • Reply
    Kinisi
    July 5, 2014 at 12:30 am

    Your cabin looked so lush! The whole trip sounded wonderful. I’ve been on one cruise before myself and can definitely agree there are pros and cons. Having such short stops is definitely the downside! As someone who loves to completely immerse themselves in a place and see as much as I can, this was always the biggest let down for me. You were lucky to have found a route that was so calm. My cruise went out from Queensland, Australia over to the islands Vanuatu, Lifou and Noumea. At times it was so turbulent it was hard to walk straight (pressure bands and ginger tablets saw me through). We heard stories at dinner that some people hadn’t been able to leave their cabin yet due to sea sickness – and at that point we were four days in! I so agree with meeting other first timers as well haha We were introduced to an elderly lady who was on her 47th cruise!!

    I hope you do make it back to Santorini (such a lovely place) – would love to see you post on it!

    I absolutely love your ’12 trips’ project by the way! Such a brilliant idea. You’re certainly on the right side of the world to fit some great places in 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      July 7, 2014 at 10:46 am

      Thanks, I really enjoyed it, though as you say the downside is that you only get a taster of each destination – I’ve already been looking at flights to Santorini next spring! Think I might not have had such a good experience if I’d had the conditions you did though – that’s partly why I went for a trip without any full sea days and in a fairly calm area. Though I bet the South Pacific Islands were worth the pain!

  • Reply
    thebritishberliner
    July 5, 2014 at 7:15 am

    Your room looks amazing. I wish all cabins would look like that but what an amazing trip! The last cruise that I took was across the pyramids in Egypt before the troubles (late 90’s), Yikes! That was great because the ship was small. I think we were about 100 people which I thought was perfectly fine. I did get ill for a day or two but not because of the sea but because of the sun: 40C out there was killing me!
    I’m a bit worried about the time when docked as you need time to do a walking or local heritage tour, have lunch, and do some shopping I reckon however, I think river cruises are more my thing as I like historical places LOL!
    Thanks for sharing Lucy. 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      July 7, 2014 at 10:48 am

      Wow 40C is a bit hot even for me! I quite fancy the idea of a river cruise too – the benefit over the sea ones is you can get right into the centre of the city, as sometime we had to travel a bit to get into the destination ‘proper’. If you don’t mind paying for a taxi though you can get almost a full day – most of the time we docked at 8am/9am and left at 5pm/6pm so you can fit quite a bit in.

  • Reply
    gerryann
    July 5, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    Great post! I am a bit reluctant to try large cruise ships – too busy, long queues everywhere….might give Celebrity a try though!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      July 7, 2014 at 10:50 am

      Thanks, yes I was worried that it would feel crowded but the ship was so big it never did – probably helped too that we didn’t have any sea days, so most of the time some people were off the ship. Never had to queue for anything, though we might have just got lucky!

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    July 7, 2014 at 10:19 am

    So glad you enjoyed it Lucy – I was a little worried about the motion sickness so glad that you didn’t feel it. Looking forward to more posts and pics on your Celebrity Cruise.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      July 7, 2014 at 10:51 am

      Thanks Suzanne, yes we had a really great time – so impressed with the ship and the staff. Lots more posts to come when I get to the end of my photo backlog!

  • Reply
    restlessjo
    July 8, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    Was that your first sight of Santorini, Lucy? I couldn’t remember if you’d done any Greek islands before. It’s a stunner and that IS a place to arrive by sea. Did you take the donkey up the cliff face? 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      July 8, 2014 at 12:56 pm

      I loved Santorini. I’d only been to Rhodes before – years ago – so I was well overdue to see a bit more of Greece and am going to be back soon for sure. We gave the donkeys a miss though and walked up and down the cliff face – definitely got our exercise in that day!

  • Reply
    Darlene
    July 13, 2014 at 6:52 am

    My husband and I love cruising and have been on 7 ocean cruises and one river cruise. We have never had a bad experience and always come away with new friends.We have yet to do a Mediterranean cruise but plan to. We have been on a number of different cruise lines but liked Celebrity the best so far.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      July 13, 2014 at 8:14 am

      It does seen to get addictive! I’d like to try out a river cruise and also take a cruise around Alaska and the Caribbean. Glad you had a good experience with Celebrity too, we were really impressed with the ship and the staff.

  • Reply
    Need Another Holiday | travel blog for trip-takers and city-breakers
    July 15, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    […] for something completely different – On the Luce took a cruise in June. I have to say I’m intrigued by cruising and think it’s about time I tested the water […]

  • Reply
    thelotuscreative
    July 19, 2014 at 8:55 am

    Wow, cruising looks incredible! I had never considered taking a cruise before but this looks truly beautiful and like a great experience!

    I love the idea of making new friends and waking up each day ‘in a new place’. 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      July 22, 2014 at 3:11 pm

      Thanks, being in a new destination each day was my favourite bit – so nice not to have to repack your bags and spend the time travelling from one place to the next as it was all done while we slept!

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