We do enjoy our holidays and are well travelled however this was by far the most relaxing holiday yet. The review below is totally my own opinion and contains advice for first time cruisers, specially any flying in from long haul destinations.
I booked this holiday through a travel agent, we normally arrange our trips ourselves, however, having never cruised before we thought we would rely on the experts. We were due to fly Dublin - Newark - Fort Lauderdale on 8th November however with less than 12 hours to go our flight was cancelled. Sheer panic ensued before we were finally rerouted through Atlanta but also gained an extra day's holiday at the end, more about this later. My advice would be to fly in at least 2 days early, the day before doesn't allow for any last minute problems, lost luggage nor jet lag and indeed I spent the first couple of days on board in a jet lag fog.
We stayed in the Crowne Plaza Cruise Hotel in Fort Lauderdale. This hotel was fine and suited our needs. We arrived late in the evening and took the water taxi to Las Olas Blvd where we strolled and ate. The following morning we were booked on the shuttle to the port, I also prepaid to be collected upon disembarkation. I am so thankful to Cruise Critic forum for picking up this tip, it saved much queuing but more about that at disembarkation.
The Eclipse is huge, like really huge and I regularly got lost!!! Once on board we headed to the pool area where we had a drink with a really nice couple who we were to end up spending lots of time with. It was with some anticipation we went to our cabin once we were informed it was ready. I was very pleasantly surprised, it was much bigger that any photographs would lead you to believe with lots of storage space. On a negative, I felt it had been cleaned in a rush and indeed the previous occupants used shower cap was left hanging in the shower and I felt the beach towels had not been replaced. Our cabin attendant, was ok, we tipped him etc but, I don't know, he wasn't maybe the most friendliest. The balcony was fantastic and on port days we had our breakfast on this.
The ship is lovely, lots of space, lifts, bars and restaurants. We ate in the MDR every night apart from one, we ate in the Oceanview. Dress code is the MDR is smart apart from the formal nights but casual in the Oceanview. We had no complaints about the food or the service. We went select dining and it worked well for us and we opted to share every evening. We usually ate around 20.30 and never had a delay in waiting for a table. We met lovely people on board, mixed ages, nationalities etc and also some odd balls but that's what made it all so interesting. The food in the oceanview is also very good and on sea days we'd collect breakfast here and eat it outside. In the evenings, while having a sun downer, we also had sushi. However, I just don't like the layout of the oceanview, reminds me too much of a cafeteria and doesn't fit in with the 5 star luxury of the rest of the ship, but that's just my opinion.
We elected, after much thought and soul searching to purchase the premium beverage package. I feel we got great benefit from this, we both like our coffee and the morning started with me getting some in Cafe al Bocia and bringing it back to our cabin, this was followed by numerous bottles of water, and as the day continued, frozen drinks poolside, rum punch, pre dinner cocktail in the Molecular Bar, a must visit and post dinner Martinis, thank you fellow passenger for introducing me to appletina and chocatina, and of course the wine with dinner. It does add up and I feel, though my OH questions this, that we got full benefit even on port days, it also takes away the hassle of always signing etc. However, do keep an eye on your account as twice we were charged for coffees, this was corrected immediately.
There were many complaints that the ship was too quiet, again I've nothing to compare it to and there were some very quiet evenings but we made our own fun. Regarding the shows, we struggled to get to any of them as the times 19.00 and 21.00 just didn't suit us, our evenings were spent having sun downers, trivia quiz then a dip in the hot tub before we got ready for dinner. I feel a later time would have suited us and others better. My OH went to the late night adult comedy show and thoroughly enjoyed it. From what I've heard the shows were well received.
Oh did we enjoy the trivia quizzes and other team games and we cleaned up despite laughing so much that our sides were sore. Judging from how serious some people take these quizzes you would think they were competing for a free cruise, we took home an array of souvenirs, baseball hats, sun visors, pens, pencils, notebooks, lanyards, key rings/bottle openers, luggage tags etc much to the disgust of some of our competition. Seanie Cash is hilarious and if you meet him mention 'Charlie' and watch him laugh!
We did not take any of the ship port excursions but instead found our own way. In San Juan I met up with a fellow tweeter whom I'd never met before. She is a recent ex pat from Ireland and had asked me to bring her some goodies she was missing. What a place for a tweet up! We then walked to the Fort, wandered back through the old town, back to the ship to collect my iPad then over to Senor Frogs where they have free wifi, just ask and someone will log you in.
This reminds me that our mobile provider didn't have a roaming arrangement with whatever provider the ship use so we had no signal at all whilst at sea. I was anxious to contact my children to give them the direct phone number to the ship should they need us in the case of an emergency.
In St Thomas we got a taxi to the ferry, the 20 minute crossing one, then another taxi to Turtle Bay. It was lovely though there was no snorkeling due to the swell. We did the same return journey making sure to be on the 15.00 ferry, note we met others who were on a ferry back to the port that leaves at 15.45 and takes about 40 mins, they misunderstood and though it was only 15 minutes, we met them again later during the week and they were sorry they hadn't tagged along with us as they were making frantic calls to the ship to wait for them and indeed sprinted up the gangway.
St Maarten we had great plans to chill out on the beach in the morning, go to Maho to view the flights landing and taking off and then head to Sapphire beach, it wasn't to be. We didn't bother with the water taxi but instead walked to the beach, settled ourselves at the quieter far end of it and got so comfortable we stayed there for the day until we meandered through the shops while strolling back to the port.
St Kitts was the only excursion I'd pre booked with blue water safaris. It was great fun, we did a half day catamaran trip with lunch and snorkeling. the crew were fantastic, lunch and drinks all included, as much as you wanted, and the boat wasn't too crowded. The snorkeling was a fun thing to do, there is better snorkeling elsewhere. Point of note, we stupidly weren't thinking and never brought tee shirts to snorkel in so suffered 2 burnt backs later on that day despite being covered in sunscreen. When we returned to the port we got a taxi which took us to a fantastic beach Conaree Bay, there are amazing photo opportunities and at the bay there is a lovely restaurant and an amazing beach.
The last 2 days were spent at sea and whilst I enjoyed them I would have like just one more port to call into and know I would never be suited to a TA cruise.
I found the majority of the crew very friendly though with very little interaction. I felt some were at the end of their contracts and the cruise smile was wearing a bit thin whereas others had only started and were struggling to learn the ropes. So all in all some happy faces and some grumpy ones!
From a Celebrity point of view disembarkation went like clockwork, however, there were 8 ships in port that day, the port can take 9, so it was bedlam once you got off the ship. The luggage area was too small and immigration was a nightmare with queues everywhere. Then when we finally exited the terminal there were 1000's of people looking for transport. We were very relieved that not only had we pre booked our shuttle but we also had an extra day and night before our flight home. I really felt for anyone rushing for a flight, it would have put a real dampener on the end of the holiday.
We went to the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Hollywood Beach. This is at the South end of the beach and is a water front property with a fabulous pool. The room was amazing. The beach is on the opposite side of the road so we took off, walked up to the boardwalk, walked the boardwalk and continued walking past the dog beach to almost the pier which meant we were nearly back at the port! Well we did have desserts and drink to walk off!!! That evening we went into Youngs Circle, again thanks to fellow passengers who advised this. There is a great buzz there, we strolled around and headed back to Hollywood Beach for some food and people watching. It really was the icing on the cake to the end of our holidays. The hotel organised a taxi the following day to take us to the airport, having spent the morning having breakfast on the beach, taxi cost $30
Shopping - we actually purchased very little though I made a point of buying the tackiest Christmas tree decoration I could find in every port. Will certainly lead to some laughs in the future! Perfume is very good value.
So to surmise, for me this holiday surpassed all my expectations, it suited us perfectly following 2 very stressful years and we found it very relaxing. The people we met only added to the enjoyment. I have 1000's of photos which I have yet to organise, I bought a camera connector for my iPad before we travelled which was brilliant so they are organised into days.
Would I recommend this type of holiday? Yes I would but only to people I know well, wouldn't suit party animals nor travelling with small children I think. Would I go again? Yes and indeed completed the open passage form while we were on board. Would I do anything differently? Yes, probably organise it myself next time, would definitely fly out 2/3 days in advance and take an extra day at the end of the cruise.
If you have taken the time to read this I thank you and should you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me
Finally I would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to post tips for first time cruisers on cruise critic forum, they were very helpful and much appreciated.