This was our first ever cruise and we had a tremendous time. We were slightly concerned based on some of the reviews we read prior to sailing...but we quickly discovered after boarding that we would have a different experience than those reviewers.
We spent the night prior at the Embassy Suites in FLL and it was fine. With many cruise ships going out the next day, it was packed. We attempted to go to the manager's reception, however, with lines snaking out the doors of the lounge for a free drink, we decided it wasn't worth it. We went across the street to the Irish Pub (Waxy O'Connors) and had a great meal and pints.
Embarkation was an experience. The cab ride to the port felt like a slalom run that came to a dead stop at the gates of the port. We waited for an extended time in stopped traffic, however, our driver forced his way into different lanes to get us to the ID check point. From there to the ship, it was about 30 minutes of more waiting in traffic mixed with mad dashes by the cabbie. None of this was Celebrity's issue, but it did make us grateful to flee the cab and join the line for the Eclipse. The line snaked out of the building from security and was not moving; passengers in suites were moved to a shorter line, but that did not appear to moving either. Having never cruised before, we had no idea if this was the norm or not. Others around us indicated they never had to wait like this. After about 30 minutes, the lines began to move and we made it through security, registration and the holding area.
Our first stop once on board was to an empty Bistro on Five (thanks to all the posters with this recommendation). The staff apologized profusely that they were running behind due to a US Government Health Inspection that delayed them. We had just finished lounging after a very good lunch (the Bistro was still only 1/2 full) when the "staterooms are ready" announcement went out.
Our cabin was on the forward bump and was a good size for the 2 of us. My wife was concerned about storage based on reviews, but with use of the over bed cabinets, closet and drawers, we had more than enough room. We met our stateroom attendant upon arrival to the room. Over the course of the cruise, he and his asst took care of everything we needed. Other than an occasional meeting in the passageway, we did not see him much for the rest of the cruise. However, the room was always ready and clean...I have seen others complain about this, but to me it meant they had an uncanny way of knowing our schedule and made sure not to inconvenience us. On the one occasion we called him on the phone, he was at the door within 2 minutes.
We enjoy food and we were not disappointed in the MDR on this cruise. I understand food is very subjective and suspect that drives the wide range of ratings. We are not 5 star diners...we eat out at both neighborhood restaurants as well as those downtown, but tend toward nice, but not luxurious places. I can easily say that I enjoyed every meal I had onboard...both in the MDR and in Tuscan/QSine. I prefer meat over fish and had either steak or veal almost every night in the MDR. I did not order the "always available" steak, but went for the daily offerings. My wife had fish most nights and enjoyed nearly everyone. The one downer was the lobster on the last formal night...even though I warned her (based on my "extensive" cruise knowledge, which honestly I got from all your posts) that it wasn't going to be the Maine Lobster she likes. Our waitress overheard my last "are you sure" and offered to bring an Ahi entree for "the table to share" as well. Needless to say, the rest of us didn't get much of the Ahi (I was ok with that since my Beef Wellington was excellent). We never walked away hungry from the MDR...some meals were better than others, but that is normal. Overall they were excellent with some being superb. One last comment on MDR dinner portions...when I got my first appetizer plate, I was surprised at how small the portion was...but I soon learned they were about right considering I was going to eat 4 courses after eating plenty earlier in the day (plus if I wanted an extra one, all I had to do was ask and it appeared). If they would have been bigger, I could have rolled off the ship.
We also visited Tuscan Grille (2 times) and QSine during the cruise. Both were excellent in different ways. Tuscan had tremendous views and very good steaks (I could've cut the filet with a spoon). Service was very attentive without being hovering. It also served to remind me why the MDR portions were about right...both times we left Tuscan, I was in near pain from eating too much. In each case, I knew I should have stopped, but it was too good. QSine was unique and a great experience. Much of the appeal is the presentation and combinations rather than the food itself. Everything we had was good, the service was great, but I'm not sure I would visit it twice during the same cruise. On our next cruise, especially if we take the children, we will go back though.
The service we received on the ship from the staff can be summed up in one word...incredible! Our wait staff was wonderful and made dinner a great experience every night. I have seen other reviews commenting on how bad the MDR staff was and I can honestly say we were blessed with a waitress/2 assistants that were far and above what we have experienced on land. The same was true for the sommelier. He hustled constantly, although it looked like he did have a lot of tables to cover. Bar service in the various lounges was very good as well. We both had packages and expected slow service based on other reviews. Nothing could be farther than from the truth (but then again we tipped a dollar or so for each round). When we walked into the area, we were quickly noticed and served...in most cases with the waiter/waitress already knowing what we wanted. The only question we received on entry to Cafe Al Bacio was "for here or to go"...after that coffees just magically appeared.
I won't bore everyone with all the islands other than to say, if you book COSOL on St Lucia, you will not be disappointed. He was our first ever island tour, and from what we saw for the remainder of the cruise, set the standard we'll measure all other tours against. In addition, the Segways on Antigua and Mandoo on Grenada were both extremely enjoyable and worth the money.
Entertainment on board was somewhat of a mixed bag. The various bands, quartets, etc were good. We enjoyed John Winters (guitar singing oldies) more than the rest, but none were bad. The onstage entertainment in the theater was ok...we didn't attend all the shows, but the ones we did were enjoyable. It is not Broadway or the A list, and if you expect that, you will be disappointed. If you take it for what it is, talented people entertaining you on a cruise ship, you'll be fine. Finally, based on what I had read, I was ready to be blasted everywhere on the ship with loud background music. It didn't happen...the only time I really noticed it was if I consciously listened for it. The much talked about music in the Martini Bar was not necessarily what I have on my IPod, but it was not generally loud enough to cause people to flee. On the one occasion that it was louder than the norm, someone asked the staff to turn it down and they did.
Finally, I'll close with 2 things that were not overly enjoyable. First, I can honestly say that I witnessed behavior that embarrassed me on multiple occasions even though I was not a party to the event. In every case, it was my fellow passengers that made we want to crawl under a rock. It started on Day 3 with an elderly man screaming at a staff member in the passage way while shaking his finger within a couple of inches of their face...the issue, he had not gotten a chocolate on his pillow the night before. It ended on Day 14 with a woman in line at Guest Services berating a staff member about tips on her bill. It seemed that she had already visited Guest Services to remove them, but there were still gratuities listed on the statement. The poor girl was trying to explain to the woman that those charges were the 15% added to her bar purchases, but the women was demanding they be removed too. The second issue was debarkation -- we have never gotten off a cruise ship before, but suspect it should not work like it did. For whatever reasons, it ended up with long lines moving down a single stair case and effectively going off 1 at a time down a single gangway on deck 2. There was a second gangway but it appeared to be used for those requiring assistance going ashore. The end result was a tremendous back-log with no obvious attempt by staff to organize the chaos. However, this did not detract from an otherwise wonderful cruise...I was already very sad because I was being forced to get off the ship!
This was our first cruise and it will not be the last. We had a tremendous time and came away with incredible memories. We are hooked and cannot wait to start planning our next cruise!