This review covers our most recent cruise out of Southampton, England, on the 7th July, 2012, on board the Celebrity Eclipse, to Iceland, The Faroe Islands and Norway. We were in Concierge Class and found the extra little touches most welcome.
Most of the passengers were British but I am pleased to say that they displayed much better manners and observed the code of conduct much better than those on our Western Mediterranean cruise on the Eclipse last August (2011). On that occasion, we felt embarrassed and ashamed to be associated with them as they consistently failed to observe common courtesies and were quite rude!
Because of the hassle at airports these days with limited baggage allowance, we are really glad the Eclipse is sailing from Southampton, even though it does involve (for us) an overnight stay in a Southampton Hotel (at our own expense). We found the check in procedures at Southampton to be fairly quick and friendly, apart from being accosted by those terribly pushy photographers who, without a polite enquiry, insist on telling you where to stand for an unwanted photograph you are never going to view because you never look at your best when boarding.
When we arrived on board at about 11.15 am, the Staterooms were not ready so we were asked to sit in one of the lounges for about an hour or go the Ocean View Cafe for a bite to eat. However, that is preferable to being left waiting in the car on the quayside!
We enjoy cruising because it offers the opportunity to wind down and relax. The Celebrity Eclipse is a beautifully designed ship and the staterooms are pretty impressive with lovely, comfortable beds. The stateroom bathrooms are particularly well laid out with good shelf and cupboard space. We were blessed with good weather and calm seas which always adds to the overall experience in a positive way. There are plenty of on-board activities in which guests can join but there is no pressure to do so and, if Bingo and the casino are not your 'thing', you just do something else instead. The culinary demonstrations and the 'Beyond the Podium' series of talks were most interesting and informative. For those who have not seen it before, the 'Hot Glass' show is surprisingly good on deck 15.
The itinerary on this cruise is pretty good, with the ports of call being Reykjavik, Akureyri, Klaksvik, Geiranger, Molde, Flam and Bergen -- but there is much room for improvement. Iceland was a pleasant surprise to us, not really knowing very much about what to expect. The unique landscape made for interesting site seeing. Reykjavik is a nice city which is easy to stroll around as an independent traveller. There was a variety of good shore excursions at each port of call, each rated in terms of degree of ease or difficulty and, save for the tendering arrangements at Geiranger which prevented us from getting ashore until after 12.15 pm, these were generally well planned and organised. The ports lecturer was entertaining and amusing but gave insufficient information to assist those who had decided not to book a Celebrity shore excursion but to explore the destination for themselves at their own pace.
I have to say that it remains something of a mystery to us why we were sailing between ports at only 10 to 13 knots, sometimes using only one engine, for long periods of wasted time. Whilst it is obvious that arrival times in ports depends on other shipping and the capacity of the port staff to service the arrival, I have little doubt that an extra port of call in Norway could have been accommodated fairly easily rather than spending extra days at sea. Moreover, it was particularly disappointing that the ship was scheduled to depart from Bergen at 2.00 pm (having been cleared by the Bergen Port Authority at about 8.00 am) leaving nowhere near long enough to explore this interesting City.
The food on board is of a high standard but the menus (which are dictated centrally by Celebrity) need greater variety and a greater use of 'local' dishes. For example, in Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Norway it would not be unreasonable to have had more fish dishes on offer from the northern hemisphere! The portion sizes were fine, though I always ask for extra vegetables, which are served with a willing smile by the excellent dining room staff -- we were on second sitting for our evening meal and were looked after exceptionally well by our waiters.
I am sorry to say that we found the on board theatre entertainment was only average, though the dancers were excellent, particularly the balletic routines which revealed considerable technical ability. Having been involved with music and the "holiday entertainment industry" myself for many years, I feel qualified to say that the 4 main singers, particularly the two females, seemed obsessed with shouting and screaming the lyrics rather that singing tunefully. The execution of the songs from Les Miserables, for example, made us feel miserable for all the wrong reasons! These two women were also providing the entertainment last August on this ship in the Mediterranean but they have certainly not improved! If they have voice coaches, I recommend that they spend time training them to soften their delivery. They could do worse than sit and listen to the delivery of songs by the 'A Cappella' quartet which sang tunefully at various locations throughout the cruise and was much appreciated by enthusiastic audiences.
The Cruise Director this time was Stewart who has duel Canadian and British nationality. He is not a 'natural' and has not been on the Eclipse very long -- and his lack of knowledge about the destinations was very apparent! Whilst he is not to blame for the average entertainment, he displayed an amazing lack of self-confidence and it was unnerving having to watch him fidget about nervously whether on stage introducing acts or when presenting the daily 'Celebrity Today' TV slot, which he seemed to do without any advance preparation! That slot is meant to be informative, rather than simply reading out the items from the 'Celebrity TODAY' leaflet which guests are quite capable of reading for themselves! Frankly, he would benefit from more personal development work at the earliest opportunity from Celebrity if he is to continue in this role. It was a good job he had alongside him the hardworking Activities Manager, Maria, who was always visible around the ship, unlike Stuart who was rarely to be seen speaking to the guests.
Then, there was a solo act who described himself as an impressionist but who demonstrated that he couldn't even impersonate an entertainer. Apparently, judging by the letter of apology delivered to every stateroom during the early hours following his performance, he made a number of inappropriate remarks as a part of his act in the early show, which was attended by children, and was required to change his act completely for the second, later performance when, as with the first, people actually walked out. We have not witnessed that before and I doubt very much Celebrity will want to use him again!! Celebrity has a long way to go to achieve the consistently high standards of entertainment on Princess Cruises!
Moving away from entertainment, I have to say that the service on Celebrity Eclipse is of a very high standard. There is a fantastic variety of food from around the world available in the Oceanview Cafe all day and night and the standard of food and service in the Moonlight Sonata Restaurant, Bistro on Five, and the Speciality Restaurants -- our personal favourite is the Tuscan Grille - is consistently of a very high standard. There are several thoughtfully designed bars and we found the waiters in the Martini Bar extremely friendly and obliging. They certainly made all the guests feel special and welcome, even to the point of remembering our surnames. That 'personal touch' can mean so much!
Disembarkation was efficient and quick at Southampton.
So, in summary, there were many more positives than negatives and we thoroughly enjoyed the ship and the cruise.