Summary: Very good cruise overall, with a few minor disappointments.
My wife and I are 42, from upstate New York, and we took this cruise with our 14 and 10 year old daughters. This was our 2nd cruise, the first on the Carnival Fantasy in 2011.
Pre-embarkation in Miami:
We stayed at the Embassy Suites near the airport. Our cruise package rate included transportation to the port. The hotel is older and in need of updating, but the service was excellent and the cruise transfer worked out great. The hotel's shuttle drivers brought us to a Cuban place for dinner and even took us to a liquor store to pick up wine for the cruise! There was plenty of room in our suite for the 4 of us, free cocktails in the evening and free breakfast in the morning. None of it was first-class, but it was convenient and comfortable, and we would do it again.
Embarkation went flawlessly. The cruise transfer (bus) from the hotel left at 11:00, we got to the port around 11:15, and we were on the ship by 11:40. It can't go much smoother than that! We were greeted on board with a free drink (OJ, mimosa, or sparkling wine), had lunch at the buffet, were allowed in our staterooms around 1 PM, and got our luggage a couple hours later.
We had two connecting standard veranda rooms. To connect them, there is a double doorway to the hall that is closed, and the two individual stateroom doors are left open, so there is a small "foyer" in the front. This was a great design, as it allowed us and the girls to have privacy when needed, since the individual doors can still be closed. We also had our stateroom attendant open the glass panel between the verandas to make one larger balcony. The rooms themselves were large and well designed, with plenty of storage and a comfortably-sized bathroom. Everything was clean and in excellent condition. We had plenty of hangers and closet storage. There were overhead bins above the bed, and a few small drawers. The minibar worked great for keeping our wine cold (we brought 3 bottles on board with us).
The TV was nice but the quality of the feed wasn't good, so we didn't watch it much. We did use the cruise director's channel to see what was going on, and the GPS station was nice to have. We also checked our folio on the TV periodically, another nice touch. Stateroom service was also very good.
We were on deck 7, with rooms above and below us. Occasionally, we heard kids running up and down the halls above or below us, but this was usually during the daytime. At night, it seemed quiet and nothing ever bothered us.
Overall, I would give the stateroom a 10 out of 10.
The buffet was generally pretty good, although it didn't seem to change much from day to day. Breakfast didn't change at all, from what I could tell. Breakfast was decent, but we were disappointed at the poor fresh fruit selection -- cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple, and sliced oranges were pretty much it. There were apples and bananas as well, and some canned fruits, but it was near impossible to find any fresh blueberries, strawberries, or raspberries, except on the occasional dessert. The coffee was good, and there was a reasonable selection of juices (or sugared juice substitutes). There were several beverage stations in the buffet area, which was helpful, because there were frequent "outages" of things like coffee, cups, half and half, straws, etc. The standard breakfast fare (eggs, sausage, pancakes, etc.) was just OK, with the highlights (for me) being the English "banger" sausages, the Belgian waffles, and the blueberry-stuffed French toast. I found the scrambled eggs to be consistently runny, so I avoided them after the first few days. There was an omelet line as well, which my wife went to a couple of times (although once she was given the wrong omelet).
On Easter, there was a special brunch buffet in the main dining room, which was a nice touch. Our daughters were given large chocolate eggs to keep.
For lunch, the buffet selection was good, but again, it didn't seem to change much. In terms of ethnic foods, there were always a few Indian and Mexican dishes, but these sections of the buffet didn't rotate daily as I would have expected. There was a custom pasta station that my wife enjoyed. We only ate dinner in the buffet one time, and it seemed like an expansion of the lunch selection. Sushi, pizza, some pasta, and desserts seemed to be available regularly for late night snacking. Overall, I would say the buffet had a slight edge over the one we experienced on Carnival.
The main dining room is where we ate most of our dinners. We had the 6:00 seating and had requested a table for 8, hoping to be put with another family. We ended up being assigned to a table for 4 -- no big deal for us, so we didn't complain. The service and food quality in the MDR was very good. However, I was disappointed with the variety of main dish selections. There was a lot of "heavy" meat on the menu, like veal chops, pork roast, quail, lamb, duck, etc. Nothing wrong with this, if that's what you like, but I thought it was a little one-dimensional. There were not many pasta dishes offered at all, and the vegetarian dish was Indian every single night. Other than that, there was little in the way of ethnic food. In terms of seafood, the shrimp scampi, lobster, and seared tuna dishes we tried were all average at best. For all of the dishes, certain ingredients seemed to be used frequently, and I would say the seasonings generally chosen were bland, not usually spicy or adventurous. Of the six dinners we had in the MDR, I would say two of them were just fair, two were good, and two were a little better than good (my favorite was a blackened ribeye). Most nights, I ordered the "chef's recommendation", but in many cases I wished I had ordered something else. The desserts were OK but nothing special. One night, we were all given baked Alaska for dessert without being asked, although the waiter said the regular desserts were available if we wanted them. A basic cup of coffee was $4.50, so we skipped it, knowing we could get it free from the buffet.
Service in the main dining room was generally good, although beverage service from the bar person and the sommelier was somewhat spotty. Also, on some nights we felt like we were rushed, while on other nights, 15-20 minutes went by between courses. It was odd.
Overall, I preferred the main dining room on Carnival. They seemed to have a more diverse selection and most of our main dishes were good or very good. The waitstaff seemed warmer, although I know that is hit or miss. I also thought the desserts on Carnival were much better than Celebrity's. I have seen it stated that Celebrity's emphasis on their specialty restaurants means the food in the main dining room suffers as a result. I can see how this might be the case. Personally, I think Celebrity would benefit from being more adventurous with their menus instead of sticking with the standards.
We elected not to try any of the specialty restaurants, for two reasons: first, our younger daughter would only have been allowed in Tuscan Grille due to the minimum age requirements on the others. Second, $40 per person upcharge is more than I want to swallow. The four of us can have a REALLY nice meal on shore for that much money! We also didn't try the crepe or specialty coffee restaurants, so I can't comment on those. We checked out the Aquaspa cafe, but it didn't seem like it had anything much different than the main buffet, so we never ate anything there. I admit my negative food review is influenced by the fact that we didn't explore all of the food options, but I think a cruise should be judged on the food included in the standard ticket price.
We enjoyed the ship! It is easy to navigate and has lots of places to explore. The lawn was a lot of fun to play bocce on, and the hot glass show is also fun (we live near Corning so we've seen it lots of times, but it never gets old).
I won't go into too much detail on the ship itself, because you probably know all about it by now. However, I will bring up one major disappointment -- the swimming pools. I knew there were two main outdoor pools and one "adult" pool, located in the Solarium. The smaller main pool is essentially the kiddie pool -- it's 4 feet deep but only has about 3 feet of water in it. The larger main pool, to my surprise, was designated "adults only"! I had not read about this anywhere prior to the cruise, so it was a major shock to us. In fact, the "adults only" sign appeared to be stuck on the rules board as an afterthought. It was strictly enforced -- both of my kids tested it and were asked to get out of the pool. It meant that my 14 year old was left without anywhere to swim, since the Solarium pool was for 16 and older. I went in the smaller pool myself and the water was up to my knees, so I really felt bad for my older daughter. Adding to the frustration was the fact that the smaller pool was generally very crowded, while the larger pool was usually almost empty, except during special events like water Olympics or volleyball. I did let my kids swim in the larger pool one evening when I was with them and the pool area was mainly empty, and no one bothered them. Other than that, my younger daughter stuck to the small pool and my older daughter left her swimsuit in the stateroom. I complained about this in writing and in person at the desk, and was told that they were just following "regulations". I have no idea what this means, and I plan to follow up again in writing. By far, this was the biggest disappointment of the entire cruise.
Our cruise director was Lisa Richards, and she was fantastic -- very enthusiastic and entertaining. The entertainment on the cruise was varied and plentiful. I won't go into too much detail, but suffice it to say that if you like live music, you will have plenty of options around the ship. There were also plenty of other events going on -- check out some of the daily activity sheets posted online to get an idea.
We enjoyed the main theater shows in the evenings, which were elaborate and well-choreographed. There were four main singers and a handful of dancers who appeared throughout most of the shows. It can get tiring to see the same people night after night, but I thought Celebrity did a good job supplementing the "regulars" with the other entertainers on board, so it didn't seem as repetitive. The "cirque" style show was pretty good, considering the size of the stage. You can't expect it to be a Vegas-quality show, but it was well done. In addition to the standard singing/dancing shows and the cirque show, we also had a juggler/comedian one night. Our cruise was the last one for this group of singers/dancers, so it is likely they won't be on Eclipse again, at least for a few months. Overall, we enjoyed the evening shows, and we attended every one of them.
The crowd on Eclipse definitely seemed older and more well-to-do than the crowd on the Carnival Fantasy. We felt out of place wearing shorts after dinner, or even jeans. We really didn't see many people in our demographic (i.e., Americans with kids). We also didn't see many college-age spring breakers, unlike the cruise on we took Fantasy. There wasn't really any dominant demographic, although I would say half the ship was probably 50 and over. In general, there seemed to be a lot of non-Americans. Supposedly, there were 500-600 kids on board, but we really didn't see them. Our younger daughter enjoyed many of the kids' activities for her age group, but our older one didn't do anything with the teen group. None of the kids' activities seemed crowded, other than an Easter party they had for the younger kids.
At San Juan, we just picked up a map at the local tourist office and walked to the del Morro fort. It was a nice walk and a nice tour, for only $3. The views from the fort were awesome. We stopped for a drink on the way back, did some shopping, and got back on the ship in time for dinner at the buffet.
In St Maarten, we took "Bernard's Tours" at the recommendation of many others in this forum. It was a good tour -- nothing spectacular, but our guide ("Sexy") was very friendly, and we felt like we saw a lot of the island. The tour included stops at an iguana farm, the topless part of Orient beach (the other part is nude), and the beach by the airport, where we watched the planes land for about 45 minutes. "Sexy" provided plenty of soda, beer, and rum punch.
On St. Kitts, we went with the Fan-Ta-Sea catamaran tour offered by Celebrity. It was a nice tour, but we felt a little rushed during the snorkeling and the beach stop on Nevis. The crew was great, and again, they provided all the beverages we wanted. I think we could have gotten a similar tour for a lot less money by booking it ourselves, but we had no regrets.
We enjoyed having two full days at sea to end the cruise. It gave us a chance to do some of the activities we had missed so far.
Due to a later flight time of 1 PM, we were assigned to the last group to leave the ship. Breakfast was only available from 6:30-8 that day, so we ate early and had to be out of our stateroom by 8 AM, with a departure time of 9:50. We found a quiet spot and played cards until they called us. Luckily, they were running ahead, and we ended up being called off the ship at 9:15 or so. Disembarkation was fairly crowded but went smoothly. We waited 20 minutes or so for a taxi to the airport.
Overall, a very good experience on Celebrity!