We thoroughly enjoyed our 14-night cruise on the Celebrity Eclipse; having chosen it for the itinerary being one of the few ships that sails to the Azores as well as Madeira in addition to the Canary Islands and Lisbon. We flew from Belfast, Northern Ireland the evening prior to embarkation and met our daughter who had flown down from Newcastle.
If you also have to fly, just book it yourself as our Flybe flights were very reasonable compared to a couple who had booked their flights through Celebrity; they paid a much higher price and also had the inconvenience of flying to Heathrow and using the Celebrity organised coach to get to Southampton (at the end of the cruise their flight was not until 6 p.m. despite disembarking before 9 a.m.). A word of caution; Southampton Airport is ruthless when it comes to excess baggage and they even weigh your carry on baggage at check in -- be under no illusion they will charge you if you are over, it cost us Â£12 per extra Kg on our return flight despite us bringing nothing back and having "got away with it" on the outbound flight from Belfast.
We flew from Belfast City to Southampton and flew out only 3 hours after disembarkation direct from Southampton; a taxi to the centre of Southampton was Â£17.50 and we stayed in the Premier Inn which is a 7-min walk from the ship. The taxi from the ship back to the airport is Â£20.
Embarkation was fast and efficient; we arrived at check-in around 12 p.m. and were onboard with a glass of bubbly by 1.05 p.m. This cruise was dominated by elderly British passengers with less than 200 American and 100 Australian passengers onboard, together with a smattering of Canadians and other nationalities. The average age was apparently 65 but luckily our daughter did meet two other people in their twenties and had a great time, as did we. The Stateroom (9278) was excellent even with 3 of us sharing. The bathroom was of a very high standard with quality Hans Grohe shower and tap fixtures; excellent water pressure in both and it was nice to have a good-sized shower cabinet with sliding doors rather than a curtain.
The bathroom also had loads of clever storage space in drawers, cabinets and shelves which negated the need to pack toiletries away each day. The Stateroom was a good size and our (26-year old) daughter slept on the sofa without any problems (there was also a drop-down bed recessed in the ceiling but we had no need to use this). The slide-robe was just long enough to take all of our clothes, after getting extra hangers from Antonio, our excellent Stateroom Steward. The balcony was a decent size with two reclining chairs and a small table.
The Stateroom was located starboard, aft/midship next to the elevators (separated from the Stateroom Gangways by a partition wall) but it was extremely quiet and we never heard our neighbours or the elevators at any time. The location was excellent giving fast access to the elevators and therefore the restaurants and central bars, lounges and shops.
There was a wide and varied choice of dishes at breakfast and lunch in the Oceanview (buffet) restaurant but the standard was just okay; most times the food looked better than it tasted and we found the quality of the food to be below that of Princess. The MDR (Moonlight Sonata) was however excellent and we did not feel the need to try the speciality restaurants. There was a good choice every day with the presentation and quality being consistently good. We opted for Select Dining and generally arrived at the restaurant between 7.40 and 8.05 p.m. each evening; we never had to wait more than a couple of minutes to be seated and opted for a large table of ten on most evenings which resulted in us meeting lots of fellow passengers and varied conversation.
We quickly learned that the Port side of the restaurant was far more efficient and friendlier than the Starboard side. There was a particularly unhelpful and arrogant Sommelier on the Port side who consistently failed to re-fill our wine glasses on two separate evenings but wasted no time in plugging the wine tasting events (extra cost), we got the distinct impression that his service varied dependant on the amount of money you were spending on wine and hence the tips! On the second occasion, I informed the restaurant reception that we did not want to sit on the Starboard side again and to their credit took the matter seriously and ensured that they opened a 10-place table on our arrival each evening, on the Port side. Ivan, the Sommelier from Montenegro was superb as were all of the waiting staff and assistant Maitre'D. We found that the Indian staff, whilst polite and efficient were a bit serious for our liking, where as the Philippine, Indonesian, Turkish and Easter European staff were not only efficient but also more friendly and personal leading to a more fun event; they event did after dinner tricks each evening and really interacted with the guests.
We loved the Martini Bar on Deck 4 and the Molecular Bar on Deck 5; the variety and quality of the Martinis and cocktails was excellent and the staff in both bars were helpful and fun. We went to just over half of the shows in the Eclipse Theatre and they were of a generally good standard.
With regard to entertainment, the Welsh comedian Mike Doyle was outstanding as was Bobby Davro but Ulsterman, Adrian Walsh was mediocre. Phil Brown was an excellent singer and very versatile though a bit showy, not surprising given his West End pedigree. Neil Lockwood's Rocket Man, Elton John tribute show was well below par and many guests left during the show. The live band "Twist of 8" were very good though seemed to have a limited repertoire repeating the same songs every two nights or so. They did provide good music to dance to in the Sky Lounge in the late evening; another excellent venue.
The real lawn on Deck 15 "The Lawn Club" providing Bocce and Croquet was a nice touch as was the Glass Show. There were 2900 passengers and 1400 crew on the ship and it was sometimes difficult to get a seat in the more popular venues, particularly Cafe Al Bacio and around the pool but the waiters from Cafe Al Bacio would find us seats in the close by Molecular Bar and carry our food and drinks to our table. Likewise, we always found sun loungers on the Solstice Deck, probably because it was two flights of stairs up from the highest elevator accessible deck, making it inaccessible to the many elderly/wheelchair bound passengers. All in all we had a superb cruise and the ship was excellent though the Atrium was a bit of a let down compared to the Emerald Princess.
The lack of passenger laundries was annoying particularly given the high cost of the service laundry e.g. $1.95 (Â£1.25) to get one pair of underpants washed (we were aware of this and therefore took enough clothes to do the whole cruise). The Port Talks were virtually a waste of time as were the Port Information Sheets with the very poor maps. The Port Talks gave only a tiny bit of info for those not utilising the ships excursions and the staff had very little local knowledge. With regard to the ports, I cannot find drop down boxes for the Azores (Ponta Delgada) or Palmas de Gran Canaria so have included info about both these ports below. Otherwise I have made comments on the appropriate ports via the drop downs on the Port Reviews!
Ponta Delgada in the Azores was okay but I would recommend that you take a private trip to Crater Lake or on this occasion even use the ships excursion which costs Â£24.50 per person. The ship does not leave port until 11 p.m. so there is plenty of time to explore the town on return from the Crater Lake trip.
Palmas de Gran Canaria is on first impressions a bit grotty; there is a modern shopping mall directly opposite the port and having walked the couple of hundred metres from the ship, this part of the town is totally uninspiring but if you get the No. 1 bus from the main road (Euro 1.30 pay on board) to the bus depot at the Teatro then head to the Mercado (left from the bus depot) you will find a totally different and very elegant town with loads of lovely back streets and fine architecture, not to mention the Columbus museum. The main shopping precinct is also very elegant. The bus only takes about 15 mins from the ship and they run frequently. There is also a fine beach only a five minute walk from the ship; head into the square directly in front of the ship and then turn right onto any of the side streets and keep walking, they all hit the beach within a few minutes, which has a pleasant promenade lined with bars and restaurants.