Its been several years since I last cruised with Celebrity and I was keen to try out a Solstice Class ship for myself. What better way than 14 days on the magnificent Eclipse in the Caribbean sunshine in December. Firstly I am a solo cruiser and happy to be by myself sometimes and with others when I choose. In many ways a cruise on a decent sized ship fulfils these requirements perfectly.
Check in at Fort Lauderdale was a slow and painful experience for which Celebrity is not responsible entirely. From drop off to boarding took around 80 minutes which is worse than flying these days but soon forgotten once onboard. Lunch at the Oceanview Cafe buffet which has to be one of the best buffets in the business is somewhat dampened by the large number of people that use this facility on day 1, before discovering the other available dining venues. From that point forward I ate most lunches at Bistro on 5 because of the friendly table service, the main dining room and a combination of the 3 speciality restaurants. I found the food and service in the main dining room to be of a high standard consistently and witnessed some outstanding service from individual wait staff. No problem with the quality or quantity of the food and the staff always willing to accomodate what are often unusual requests from their customers. Due to relatively rough seas and 18ft swells for the 2 day trip to Saint Maarten I didnt get my appetite going until day 3 and ate little in the meantime. Something which came as a surprise on what is a new ship was the amount of creaking and noise caused by these sea conditions. The ceiling in my cabin sounded as if it was going to fall into the room at some points along with a banging noise from the window. After arrival in Saint Maarten the sea calmed and miraculaously my cabin became a haven of peace and quiet.
That cabin is well appointed, a comfortable bed, plenty of storage place and a good bathroom with an excellent shower along with a decent sized balcony on deck 9 forward. Superb cabin attendants who could not have done more to make feel at home and comfortable. Its tough being at home again where no-one picks my towel off the floor when I leave it there. Back to the food and I bought a 3 meal option for 99USD at the 3 speciality restaurants. QSINE is a lot of fun with food being delivered in innovative and unusual ways, very creative. The staff play along with what is a fun experience and you order your meal on an iPad. Tuscan Grill is an Italian steak house and if you get a table at the rear window, you are just above the wake of the back of the ship, fabulous views and good, if not great food. I left Murano for last and this is a French/American luxury restaurant and I found the food and service to be the best combination meal I have eaten on or off the seas. Absolutely superb to the point where I went back 3 more times in total. Yes, this is has what many would consider an excessive subsidy at 40USD but ask for a discount and be a little flexible in your dining times and you wont forget Murano. Try the chateaubriand cut at your table side. I think that Celebrity are pushing their luck by charging 10USD for a glass of wine but that is what it will cost you.
I do a combination of ship arrange tours and taking care of myself and using the many local taxi/van drivers at each port. Some are better than others but I found the St Lucia ships tour to the Pitons to be an excellent 7 hour tour of the island with lunch. I am not a big fan of being herded about in groups which is why I dont do a lot of the ships tours. I also have the opinion that once you have seen a couple of Caribbean Islands, they are all very similar. I did the trip to Maho Beach in St Maarten to watch the airplanees landing at Philipsburg, this is famous and is a spectacular experience with the arrival of the daily KLM 747 from Amsterdam. We then stopped in St.Thomas, Antigua, St Lucia, Barbados, Grenada, Bonaire and Aruba. Some I like more than others and particlarly fond of St Maarten, Antigua and Bonaire for different reasons. Grenada was rainy and everything appeared to be shut and a lot of undesirables hanging around the port area. My solution was to get back on the Eclipse and head for Bistro on 5 for a 4 course lunch.
Entertainment on board was a mixed bag and this is a an issue which everyone has different opinions on, people like some types of entertainment but for me I found little that I considered exceptional. I think the comedian was a little over the top in the adults only show but the impersonator and African American singer dancer Delisco were good shows. I did enjoy the ships live band who have an excellent singer and musicians.
Eclipse is a beautiful ship whose appeal grew on me during my 14 days onboard, the lawn on deck 15 works well in combination with the sunset bar at the back of the ship. This is a very relaxing place to be on sea days and during sail aways from port. I dont really get the Hot Glass show which I found long and boring and you dont get to see the finished product. This seems like a waste of a big area of the top deck which I am sure could be put to better use. It was also painfully evident that the folks doing the show were suffering from excessive heat in the searing Caribbean sunshine. The central lobby area and the elevators is magificent, with a large tree in a pot hanging in mid air 7 or 8 floors up. The whole space is very elegant. I found the staff to be uniformly professional and friendly and eager to please and after only a very short time I was being recognized and welomed by name in various venues. I would like to see Celebrity introduce some more laundry options, as Holland America does for a more reasonable price. I dont want to do my own laundry but there is a price point where I will get all my laundry done by the ships staff.
I found the last 2 days and 3 nightsat sea a little tedious and another stop, maybe a Labadee or Bahamas/Key West would have been much better. All in all an outstanding and memorable experience. I ask myself what Celebrity could have done better and the answer is not much.
Disembarkation was chaotic and very slow with my group number being called 45 later than planned, slowly through immigration and then a line of 200 people waiting for taxis. I get the feeling that the current facilities simply cannot handle the number of people on these big new ships but once again, I dont hold Celebrity to blame for this. I shall be back for more time on the Solstice clas ships.