The Celebrity Eclipse is a fantastic ship that excels in all areas of passenger service and comfort.
We tried Aqua Class for this voyage out of Southampton.
When Celebrity marketed this cruise last year they had no control over the passenger demographic. Despite the voyage being in the high season of July there were few young families and under 50s. The average age group on this voyage appeared to be around 70 -- the Grey Pound/Dollar. This sadly reflected in some of the entertainment and the general feel of the ship. However, our main highlights of this cruise were :
*Aqua Dining Matre'D: Jorge Simoes
*Quality of food on the oceanview lunchtime buffet
*Excellent behind the scenes tours
*Itinerary of Reykjavik, Faroes and Bergen inc the Fjords
*Receiving a certificate that we crossed the Arctic Circle
*Rock music show "Edge" featuring music of Journey, Van Halen etc
*Broadway style show featuring music of Dirty Dancing etc
*Sam Kane - a fantastic performer aka Mr Linda Lusardi !
On Day 1 we boarded around 1230pm after dropping off luggage quickly and smoothly and parking. Celebrity fast-tracked Aqua, Concierge and Captains Club members. However this created quite a large line at the check in desks by putting all these categories in one line. Only Suites had their own dedicated queuing area.
When we received our Sea Pass cards and proceeded to the boarding area we were asked by a waiter to show what category it was for. More on that later. The cabins were ready at 1 and sail away was at 430pm.
Day 2 and 3 are at sea. The 2nd night is a formal evening and has a production show. Day 4 we arrived in Reykjavik around 1pm. There were shuttle buses provided by the port authority for a fee of $8 return. The queues were horrendous due to the amount of passengers choosing this option. With only a small number of buses operating and a wait of almost an hour for a 15 min ride into town. Walking would take about 40 mins through the port and then along the waterfront into town. Buses could be paid for in euros, dollars and Icelandic currency by obtaining a ticket at the tourist office on the pier.
Reykjavik is a very pleasant port to spend a day ashore in. The buses dropped us off downtown at the tourist information office. There are some nice sights to see and some good local shops. Remember you can claim back your VAT at the pier in cash if you obtain the correct receipt from local shops and make a minimum spend.
Day 5 we took a ships tour to the Geothermal springs and to view the Blue Lagoon, this was very good if you are not interested in spending many hours bathing there. We also visited a Viking Museum. Good value trip with an excellent guide. Long queues on return to ship as only one gangway in operation due which was very steep and there were lots of incapacitated passengers requiring assistance.
When we sailed into the Midnight Sun it was quite an experience. The sun did not set until after 1230am at which time we approached and crossed the Arctic Circle travelling to Akuyeri. True White Nights.
Day 6 in port in Akuyeri. Small quaint town which is very clean but not geared up to make money from tourism. There is a small gift shop at the pier and one in town. Most chose to take the tour to the waterfall but with at least a dozen coaches taking this trip at the same time it may not be the experience intended. Akuyeri has a botanic garden and a pleasant shoreline. A nice place if it is a sunny day.
Day 7 at sea. We were able to spend time at the pool today in a pleasantly calm and sunny day crossing to the Faroes.
Day 8 in Klaksvik on the Faroe Islands. We took a ships tour to Torshavn. Excellent and good value for money. After a one hour guided walking tour of the very colourful houses around the old harbour we proceeded back to the ship via some very scenic mountain and valley roads. There did not appear to be much in Klaksvik, the ship docks about a 15 minutes walk from the town along a road populated by ship tour coaches but shuttles were available for free.
Entertainment that evening was Sam Kane, more on that later.
Day 9 at Sea. 2nd formal night.
Day 10 in Gerainger. We chose to take the ships tour of the RIB Boat. A real thrilling ride and well worth doing. After putting on sea faring suits we proceeded up the fjord, getting really close to the waterfalls and scenery. A real highlight of the cruise. Highly recommended for all ages. 1hr duration.
Gift shops at the pier have a good selection of souvenirs. Tender service with pre collected tickets in operation using ships tenders. 5 minute crossing.
Day 11 in Molde. There were free shuttles available provided by the town but we chose to take the 20min walk along the shore to town. A pleasant town but another where it is not geared up for tourists to spend money. The Jazz Festival was on and there were craft stalls set up and a parade by the local teenage music group. The town hall is worth a visit for its display of roses on the roof. Originally this voyage was scheduled for Alesund which may have been a better option.
Day 12. Flam. A very picturesque sail up the fjord which commences during the night. The pilots board the ship in Gerainger and disembark in Bergen. A bit like a little Disney port viewed from the ship. Most choose the railway. All the ships tours were sold out before boarding. Some chose to head (run) for the ticket office at 8am to travel on the railway immediately or buy tickets for later but departures soon sold out with two ships in port. There are ferries available for short tours along the fjord if you so wish. Also bikes for hire with cycle paths to the next village.
Day 13. Bergen. The Eclipse was scheduled to be in port 8am to 2pm. The port authority provided free shuttle buses into town as this is one of the larger industrial ports where tourists cannot walk off the ship and through the port themselves. Lots of lovely coaches available running continuously. We chose to head off early (730am) to the Funicular to beat the lines. We and a few other passengers caught the 8am service to the top of Mount Floyen for the classic picture postcard view of Bergen. The funiculars were running continuously all day but with 6 cruises ships in port that day it would have become crowded with long queues after 9am.
The Bryggen wharf area is pleasant to spend some time and wander between the shore frontages and there is a market by the quayside. The city centre shops are close by. We could have done with a little longer in this lovely port. 3rd and final formal night and production show.
Day 14 Sea.
The production shows aboard the Eclipse were highly professional and should not be missed. A little more contemporary which is good with wonderful stage effects. They started with "The Edge" which was a rock style musical show with the production dancers, including the music of the Beatles, Journey and Van Halen etc. It appeared to appeal to all ages. The second was a circus style show called "Eclipse" and finally one based on Broadway musicals. This featured We Will Rock You and Dirty Dancing.
Sam Kane aka Mr Linda Lusardi was one of the best acts I have seen on a cruise ship.
Sam used to star in Brookside on British TV as well as other soaps. He put on a fantastic show and is a very professional act. A real highlight of the cruise. He did some Rat Pack medleys and interacted extremely well with the audience. The second night he was on he shared the bill with a magician. His act included a Neil Diamond medley. A true star.
Perhaps a mistake by the booking agents at Celebrity was to bring on a guy named Mike Osman. Billed as an impressionist and comedian he certainly caused a stir on this cruise ship! Perhaps more suited to a late night venue he pitched his act totally wrong for the audience . Some would say he was crude but he did have some moments of humour that were totally lost on this passenger demographic. Some did walk out mid show and the cruise management did consider pulling his 2nd show. The rather sensitive audience base resulted in many complaints and a written apology to each and every cabin the following morning. We heard he disembarked the cruise earlier than anticipated in Bergen the following day.
A different comedian took to the stage earlier in the cruise and he went down much better.
There were some excellent port talks and spy themed sessions. All well attended. Celebrity Life programmes included cooking demonstrations by head chefs and behind the scenes tours. All passengers were able to attend the behind the scenes galley tour which was a highlight. The head chef did state that this was a challenging voyage due to the lack of ports at which the ship could pick up fresh produce. It is a pity they was no theme food events such as Norwegian specialities. The chef did state there is scope to alter the menus slightly on European cruises to suit the produce available but that the menus also had be adjusted to suit British pallets. This is a pity as the food selection on Celebrity worldwide has more flavour and variety than that which is provided out of Southampton.
For Captains Club members there was a behind the scenes tour of the main theatre. Very interesting. One of the cast did state that the shows on this voyage were shortened to 45 mins due to the older passenger base which is a pity.
The variety of food in the Oceanview View Cafe at lunchtime was excellent. Unfortunately at peak times it was very difficult to find a table. This was due to the fact that many passengers chose to sit drinking tea etc after they had eaten, therefore much reducing the turn around of tables for those wishing to eat.
Aqua Dining was a highlight of the cruise due to the Maitre'D Jorge Simeous. He ran a very slick operation with panache and humour. A real asset to the cruise line. The food selection was ok but we found it to be rather bland. We did choose the Onion Soup off the main dining room menu each night as it is a favourite. The restaurant always had the feel that they could have done with a couple more waiters and assistants as it was high pressured at peak times after 8pm. The sommeliers were excellent, particularly Daisy. Everton was a wonderful waiter as was Gladys as assistant.
When we were ready to embark at the terminal we were asked to show our cards and as we were in Aqua the hard sell began. Shocking considering we were not even up the Gangway! It was basically a pitch by a waiter behind a desk to prebook a speciality restaurant for the first night of the cruise on a 2 for 1 price basis. The problem was not the deal but the attitude, manner and delivery of the pitch. It was an appalling hard sell and a terrible advert for Celebrity. Many first time cruisers in Aqua were disgusted by this pitch. This tactic will no doubt have a high take up rate and will ease congestion in Blu on the first night but I am afraid they are going about it in the wrong way. Most were looking forward to dining in Blu and not being directed away from it. This sales process needs to be reviewed quickly.
Aqua Class Cabin 1597 was immaculate thanks to Nazareth and Rafael. On deck 11 this cabin unfortunately lacks daylight due to the large overhang of the pool deck above. Noisy footsteps and moving chairs on the deck above could be heard on odd occasions. Due to the itinerary being in a colder climate it was ok but would not want to be situated in this location in the Caribbean. It is close to the elevators and central atrium, with the library conveniently situated one deck down and the buffet two decks above. The shower is a very clever addition with all the jets and rain shower head. The bed is close to the window with the sofa at the door. There is no issue with the next door cabin which is on the start of the hump being able to overlook you. Fresh flowers provided, fresh fruit and bottled water.
Elite Captains Club. The social cocktail time was moved to the larger venue of the Sky Bar. With over 1000 CC members aboard this voyage is was a busy one for the host. Drinks available from 5 till 7. If you went in early the service was great. But it could be patchy on other occasions due to passengers requesting drinks off the menu which were available but not on the tray offered by the waiters. The canape selection was a little on the light side. RCCLs diamond lounge comes up tops.
One evening we sat for ages waiting for a drink and the Hotel Director, Julian Brackenbury was circulating. He checked that everything was ok with our cruise and noticed we had yet to be served. At that point he moved on to other passengers without rectifying the bar service!
The Crew Talent Show is a must. Some excellent vocalists that brought the audience to their feet in appreciation and tears in their eyes of appreciation.
Cruise Director, Stewart Turnbull from Vancouver -- he did not connect with the passengers terribly well and was a bit wooden. He did not participate in any of the theme nights as some cruise directors tend to do. Not one of the more memorable ones we have come across.
Celebrity does still seem to offer music selections including string quartets, cappello groups and dreary background music in lounges. However the shows this time had a lot more pizazz. The house band D'Revelation were very good when they were able to play a modern set list and entertained with their quality sound and enthusiasm.
Overall a good itinerary to some interesting ports. Some very good shore excursions and some great shows. And we did cross the Arctic Circle...