Celebrity Eclipse Cruise Review by David: Celebrity Eclipse 14-night Southern Caribbean
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Celebrity Eclipse 14-night Southern Caribbean
My wife and I just returned from a 14-night cruise of the southern Caribbean on Celebrity Eclipse. The cruise was a perfect mid-winter respite from the cold and dampness covering most of the U.S. and Canada. The beautiful ship and Celebrity's typical outstanding blend of contemporary design, excellent service, and a lively but refined environment combined to provide an overall wonderful cruise experience.
For the record, this was our 34th cruise since the mid-1990s, 6th on Celebrity (having sailed on each Celebrity class of ship since Zenith), and second on the Solstice class. Therein lies the explanation for much of the enjoyment derived from the cruise, as Celebrity's Solstice class ships stand out for me as among the very best ships we've sailed on. Having said that, and having sailed on Eclipse's slightly younger sister Silhouette in December 2011 (see my separate Cruise Critic Member review), many of the comparisons drawn will be between these two extended Caribbean More cruises.
The Ship: Eclipse is the third of five Solstice class ships. It is the last of the class to feature Corning's hot-glass blowing facility and demonstration as part of the Solstice class signature natural lawn area on the aft portion of Deck 15. With Celebrity's subsequent builds (Silhouette and Reflection), the Corning glass operation was replaced by an art workshop and two additional dining venues -- along with a pay-by-the-day cabana area that was virtually never used on our 12-night Silhouette cruise last year. I think the change in the later ships is a bit unfortunate, as I rather liked the layout on Eclipse, where the popular glass-blowing demonstrations drew big crowds and the lawn area saw plenty of games and activities that were not available on our Silhouette cruise.
Other than that, the overall layout of Eclipse is pretty much identical to what we found on Silhouette (and presumably on the other Solstice class ships). The public areas feature a very user friendly and functional layout, with an open central atrium throughout all passenger decks, creating an airy and spacious feel. This is enhanced by the open layout of the primary interior public areas on Decks 4 and 5, with multiple overlooks from the art gallery on 5 to the shopping boulevard on 4, and from the photo gallery on 5 to the Entertainment Court on 4. Specialty dining is located on Deck 5, with the primary Specialty restaurants situated around the aft of the ship (Tuscan Grille, in particular, faces aft and not only serves lunch and dinner, but on our sailing was the site of the Captain's Club Elite members' continental buffet breakfast). The more informal but equally wonderful Bistro on 5 and Cafe Bacio and Gelateria are located around the central atrium. Again around the atrium and just below these informal dining venues on Deck 4 are the unique Martini Bar with its frozen surface, and directly across is Cellar Masters wine emporium. Forward on Deck 4 is the Entertainment Court providing access to Quasar, the ship's Disco, and Celebrity Central, a 200+-seat auditorium that serves as the venue for a variety of activities ranging from enrichment presentations to game shows to Bingo. The multi-deck and high-tech Main Theater occupies the forward section of decks 4 and 5. The other primary interior public area is the Sky Lounge -- a vast space located on Deck14 forward with panoramic vistas through huge glass panels. This space -- common to all Solstice class ships -- was designed for both large and small functions and activities and on this sailing saw a number of late night activities and shows that drew hundreds of passengers.
The Stateroom: We booked early and had a Category 1B stateroom with veranda located "on the hump" starboard side near the atrium elevators, and I think this is one of the best locations on the ship. Most of the standard balcony staterooms are a little larger than average for the mainstream cruise lines (with the possible exception of Holland America). We had a similar stateroom on Silhouette, except this time the bed was located near the balcony and the sofa was adjacent to the closet, and this made access to the closet much easier than last December. Although plenty large enough -- and in particular the bathroom is larger than average and has lots of storage space, and the balcony has room for two adjustable chairs and a table -- the storage in the cabin itself is a bit inconvenient (and this has been well documented in other reviews) because there are only a few small drawers under the TV and no shelves in the closet, which itself is smaller than average. The major shelf space is located in a cabinet above and across the width of the bed. With this cabinet, there is certainly ample storage for two people, but if you are short or have physical issues, it is not easy to reach the middle portion of this cabinet without getting up on the bed. Nevertheless, we managed well, even though my wife is recovering from a broken ankle and was not fully mobile during the cruise.
Dining: When discussing dining in any of my cruise reviews I always preface my remarks with the disclaimer that dining tastes vary so much from person to person that it is difficult to accurately assess the dining aspect of the cruise, especially when it comes to selection and quality of the food. Let me also make a couple of general points here: first, in my experience Celebrity has certainly invested heavily in ensuring a high quality dining experience over the years; its reputation in this area is among the best and from my past cruises, I would say deservedly so. And so our expectations with respect to dining in general, and the Main Dining Room in particular, were pretty high. Second, I've noticed over the past 2-3 years as a regular cruiser on Royal Caribbean and Celebrity a small deterioration in the overall selection and quality of the dining room experience. Until now that trend has been more pronounced on Royal Caribbean; but I think it's fair to say that our dining room experience on Eclipse during this sailing fell short of our generally high expectations for Celebrity.
I do think it's fair to say that we and our table mates generally enjoyed the meals in the Moonlight Sonata Dining Room. Certainly the quality of service and presentation of the dishes was up to Celebrity's high standards. It is also something of a challenge to come up with a wonderful set of menu selections and serve perfect meals each night of a 14-night itinerary. Nonetheless, I think all of us at our table were slightly disappointed in the overall selection of entrees and, quite surprisingly, in the quality of some of the prepared meat selections. Nightly menus -- particular entrees -- seemed a bit inconsistent in the choices offered. It was either feast of famine, so to speak (pun intended!). On some nights there were few if any enticing selections; on other nights the menu included 5-6 popular entree options -- too much for even the most ravenous appetite to sample. With respect to the meat, on three consecutive nights the meat I ordered was either gristly or practically uncooked even though I ordered medium. And although the daily alternative items were available, there are just so many times one can order from that side of the menu. Yes -- the kitchen is preparing 1500 meals each sitting; but I've never experienced this problem before on a Celebrity cruise. Also -- for the first time we noticed the background music, which was annoying when combined with the rather high level of noise from all those people eating and conversing. I was glad when they seemed to tone down the volume of the canned music toward the latter part of the cruise; we would have much preferred live music, which had been used at dinner until recently. We felt badly for our outstanding wait staff, who were clearly upset if our dinner was not perfect or we were disappointed in the selection of menu items. I do hope this situation is isolated to the current team of chefs in the Eclipse main dining room and not part of the larger trend across RCI I mentioned earlier.
Just as an anecdote regarding the main dining room on our sailing, we were confirmed for the main seating at 6 p.m. well in advance of the cruise. To our astonishment, on the first night we saw people filing into the dining room at 5:30. We had just settled in for a couple of complimentary drinks as Captain's Club Elite members and really rushed ourselves to get to the dining from just before 6. Our wait staff explained that the dining room opened early just for the first night and that from then on main seating would begin at 6. But when I checked the next day's dining schedule in the daily program, main seating once again was listed as 5:30, and this was the first formal dining night. After checking with the hotel manager, it turned out that Celebrity reservationists in the States had overbooked the main seating for our sailing (probably a computer glitch!) and that rather than have several hundred irate guests arbitrarily moved to late seating, the staff on Eclipse decided to extend the main seating to accommodate most of the overflow. We at our table continued to arrive for dinner at 6, and our wait staff seemed to find that perfectly acceptable, since we were all eating at the same time. The only problem occurred one evening late in the cruise when our waiter was ill and his substitute berated us for keeping him waiting until we arrived at 6. When we called him out for his poor attitude and incorrect assumptions, he spent the rest of the meal clumsily trying to make up for his bad behavior. We were thrilled to welcome our regular waiter back the next night.
We did try one of the specialty restaurants, Tuscan Grille, and this turned out to be a superlative dining experience in every respect: the food; service; and ambiance. We also discovered Bistro on 5 on this cruise (how we skipped it last year on Silhouette is incomprehensible to me). We thoroughly enjoyed one lunch and one breakfast there, and it not only served up delicious food and had outstanding service, but it provided a peaceful respite from the teeming hordes at the Oceanview Cafe. We also took advantage of the Captain's Club Elite members' breakfast in the Tuscan Grille on several mornings -- and that, too, served as a welcome break from the Oceanview. And speaking of the Oceanview buffet, it served the purpose for which these upper level informal buffets are designed: feeding huge numbers of passengers quickly. In my experience the Celebrity buffet restaurants tend to be a bit better than most. But on a 14 day sailing, choosing from among the same options and having to scamper from station to station during busy breakfast and lunch times only to stand on lines or bump into fellow passengers scampering from station to station to fill their plates becomes a bit tedious, and so we were thankful to have the opportunity to take advantage of the alternatives.
Entertainment: After all those Royal Caribbean cruises, for me Celebrity has generally come up a bit short by comparison in the entertainment department. All of that changed when we sailed on Silhouette in December 2011. The Solstice class ships are designed with entertainment in mind, and our cruise on Eclipse epitomized how talent and technology can combine to present wonderful productions in the main theater. Cruise Director Sue Deming lined up a series of headliner performances on the main stage that for 14 nights brought full-house audiences to their feet on a regular basis. From the production shows, to the headliners, to the integrated and special shows, to the variety of live entertainers appearing around the ship in multiple venues every evening, Eclipse was pulsing with the sound of live entertainment. The acapella quartet, one of Celebrity's signature live acts and known on this ship as Top Shelf, was one of my favorite entertainment features around the venues and in a couple of the main theater performances.
One live entertainment feature unique to our particular sailing was somewhat controversial; I am speaking of the performances by Perry Grant. A 50ish singer/dancer/pianist, Perry had performed on earlier Celebrity cruises, and about 200 of his supporters organized a "reunion" cruise for our sailing, in which Perry performed most evenings in the Sky Lounge, plus he appeared in the opening main stage variety show, plus had his own headliner show on the main stage. His supporters -- average age of about 75 -- occupied the front two or three rows of the theater for his headliner performance; they led the cheering and even threw old underwear (provided by Perry before the beginning of the show) at him on cue during his performance. He performs mainly older standards from pop music and Broadway, and although there's really nothing wrong with that, by his own admission, the singing, and dancing, and piano playing are all just ok and he relies on sometimes raunchy or caustic commentary in between musical numbers to spice up the act. I suspect he fancies himself as a cross between Liberace and George M. Cohan -- but he promotes himself as a "one of a kind." Quite frankly, his singing is somewhat reminiscent of the bleating of a goat -- especially when he holds those long notes. This is my opinion, of course, which will undoubtedly provoke his supporters on the Cruise Critic forums. But many of the passengers I spoke to during the cruise seemed very willing to comment on his on-stage personae (and, by the way, off-stage he seemed to be very friendly and engaging with many of the passengers, but especially his acolytes), and doing so brought out a chuckle or two. Wanting to see what all the fuss was about, we caught his headliner show on the main stage midway through the cruise. Toward the end of the show he went on a bit of a rant about how he's been vilified on the Cruise Critic website and that although he may not be the greatest singer, or dancer, or pianist, he has devoted his entire life to bringing pleasure to his audiences through his unique entertainment style. It sounded so sincere that I actually felt badly for him -- and for making a little fun of him. But then he proceeded to conclude his show with three straight numbers sung in the first person -- beginning with "I Am Who I Am" from "La Cage Aux Folles. These numbers were delivered with such self-absorption that it was clear his performances are really not so much about the audiences but about himself, after all. Hmm...I seem to have gone on way too long about him; that's ba-aa-aa-aa-ahhd!
Other Activities: There was a time not so long ago when the number of cruise activities staff employed on a particular Celebrity ship could be counted on one hand. With the Solstice class ships those days are long gone. Sue and her activities manager employ probably 15-20 staff members who organized and hosted an extensive list of daily activities ranging from trivia contests to sporting competitions (often between officers and passengers), to game shows, to enrichment presentations on a variety of topics, to dance lessons, to theme parties, to a passenger show choir. My wife and I and our traveling companions participated in the show choir (it was our second time as we also performed on Silhouette) -- led by the same team of cruise staff (Mickey and Jess), musical theater vets turned cruise staff. To be sure, with the demographic on our sailing, many passengers chose to forego the many activities to just hang out in the bars and watch the shows; but that's one of the best aspects of cruising on Eclipse: having so many options and deciding to do as much or as little as you want. In sum, the entertainment and other activities -- even over two weeks -- consistently met and even exceeded our expectations on this cruise.
Staff and Crew: More than any Celebrity cruise I've experienced, Sue Deming the Cruise Director, was a commanding presence. She is the consummate host: out and about day and night engaging with passengers beyond the perfunctory "hi" one often gets from other cruise directors. She presided over, or participated in, activities each day; she certainly has a personal hand in the selection of virtually all the live entertainers on board, including the headliners, and my sense is that her contacts in the entertainment world make possible the appearance of some pretty outstanding talents -- including a unique juggler who made it to the finals of America's Got Talent, and a very entertaining stand-up comic who has performed on TV and in top national venues. Beyond that, Sue just seems to love her job. She closed each show on stage and yet appeared magically in the Entertainment Court after each show to personally greet and chat with the departing audience. She even performed her own late night headliner show in the main theater that brought down the house.
Sue surrounded herself with a friendly and competent activities staff, and for the most part everything came off as scheduled without a hitch. This may not sound all that impressive, but when you're dealing with so many activities for 14 straight days and 3000 passengers with varying tastes, it is really a monumental task. As for the support and service staff throughout the ship, as in our previous Celebrity cruises, they performed competently and efficiently -- and often so stealthily that you didn't know they were there. Our room steward and assistant, our dining room wait staff, the bartenders and bar waiters, and the many support staff and service personnel aboard Eclipse not only did their jobs well but offered a friendly greeting whenever you passed them in the stateroom corridors, on the stair wells, and throughout the ship. I was especially impressed and pleased with the daily visibility and accessibility of the senior staff, especially Tom, the Hotel Manager, and also the Guest Services Manager -- who went out of their way to engage and listen to passengers who had concerns. They -- along with Sue -- were waiting outside the terminal in Aruba to greet the 85 passengers who were unable to get to Ft. Lauderdale in time for sailing due to a massive blizzard in the Great Lakes and Northeastern parts of the U.S. the day before and day of sailing. And so overall I would say that the performance of the staff and crew exceeded our already high expectations for a Celebrity cruise.
Ports: With a full 14 days sailing the Caribbean, Celebrity was able to put together what I consider to be one of the best itineraries of all our many Caribbean cruises -- a very nice balance of 8 port stops and 5 full days at sea; however, the cruise began and ended with two consecutive sea days each, and so we had 8 port stops in 9 days, including 6 in a row during the middle of the cruise. Having been to all but one of the ports at least once and most of them multiple times, there was little pressure to spend full days ashore, and so we were able to pick and choose which islands to tour, which islands to hit the beach, and which islands to shop or do very little of anything at the port -- and in each case we were back on board in time for lunch. This made for one of the most relaxing cruises we have ever taken, and it was exactly what we needed and hoped to do.
Aruba: Although this was our third cruise visit to Aruba, we had mainly spent our time at the beach or wandering around the shops. For this cruise we took advantage of an opportunity to join a privately organized tour of the "other side of Aruba," with rugged coastline and interesting rock formations that reminded me more of the Antrim Coast in Northern Ireland than a deep southern Caribbean island with a dessert climate (except for the cactus). The tour itself was quite interesting and allowed us to see the remains of the Natural Bridge and the Lighthouse, among other sights before we were dropped off in town to do a little shopping before walking back to the ship.
Bonaire: This was the first time we've visited this island (one of very few Caribbean ports we haven't been to before). We hired a taxi to take us on a tour of the southern portion of the island, where the massive salt deposits are located, and where we were able to see many flamingos and some wild donkeys. We also walked around the shops and crafts vendors in the center of the port. Although we don't snorkel, we heard from many passengers that Bonaire is a wonderful place for snorkeling. I suspect this island will appear on an increasing number of cruise itineraries in the future.
Grenada: Having toured much of Grenada a few years ago, the plan here was to spend the morning at the beach, and so we took the water taxi to nearby Grand Anse Beach and had a very pleasant few hours just enjoying the calm, clear water and relaxing under a palm tree.
Barbados: This was our fourth visit to Barbados. On earlier cruises we had toured much of the island and the busy downtown. We considered spending some time at a beach, but in the end we did a little shopping at the cruise terminal and ended up spending most of the day relaxing on the ship.
St. Lucia: This was our second visit to this beautiful island with lush, mountainous rainforest, and the iconic Pitons. Having enjoyed a full-day sail on a catamaran from the cruise port south to Soufriere and back, with a visit to a banana plantation and the volcano, during our first visit, we hired a wonderful company (COSOL) for a private half-day tour for 4 of us that took us along winding mountain roads with beautiful vistas and through fishing villages heavily steeped in poverty as far south as Soufriere. During our many stops along the way we were treated to the "perfect" banana, and samples of perhaps two dozen types of food -- not to mention the beer, rum punch, and water. It was one of the best tours we've had in our many Caribbean port stops over the years.
Antigua: Having visited this beautiful island twice before -- including December 2011 -- without seeing all that much of it, we took advantage of an opportunity to join a private 4-hour group tour that took us across the island for marvelous views of the sea from Shirley Heights and then to the Nelson's Dockyard complex. It was well worth the time, and following our tour we looked at a couple of shops before returning to the ship.
St. Maarten: We have been to this island so many times that we intentionally decided to spend the morning walking along Front Street and looking in the shops and enjoying the boardwalk in Phillipsburg. We took a taxi from the pier to the end of Front Street and a water taxi back from near the other end. There were 6 large or behemoth-size ships in port that day and so the island had about 20,000 cruise passengers. Fortunately we got off to an early start and made it more than halfway through our walk before the streets began to overflow with cruise passengers. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable stop at one of our favorite islands.
St. Croix: Having stopped here in December 2011 and two other times before that, we have seen most of what the island has to offer. We did want to get off the ship as this was our last port stop before two days at sea on the return to Ft. Lauderdale, so we walked to a nearby beach for a couple of hours of sun and sea -- and, unfortunately a lot of rocks that made it difficult getting into and out of the water. Nevertheless -- it turned out to be relaxing morning for our final port stop.
Embarkation and Debarkation: Many of my Cruise Critic colleagues on our sailing have already complained about the debarkation process in Ft. Lauderdale. Our own experience both with embarkation and debarkation actually was quite good, but there are extenuating circumstances. In part because my wife needed wheelchair assistance getting on and off the ship, we decided to arrive early at the terminal for embarkation -- quite early, probably just before 10 a.m. We could see people still getting off the ship behind the fence separating the ship from the terminal building. Around 10:30 we were allowed to enter the terminal, have our passports and boarding passes checked, and then waited probably 20 minutes until the security check opened and we were among the first to go through. From there it took just a few minutes to check in, receive our ship cards, and proceed upstairs to a waiting room for Captain's Club Elite members and persons requiring wheelchair assistance (we were both). Boarding began around 11:30 and so we were among the first to board and head upstairs to a very empty Oceanview Cafe. Although we could not get into our staterooms until 1, we had a very pleasant, leisurely lunch and waited with our friends until the staterooms were available.
Debarkation for us worked even faster. We opted for the valet luggage service, so our checked bags were taken away the night before and we didn't have to claim them and take them through customs; Celebrity just handed them off to the airline and they made it on our flight home and showed up on the carousel at Washington Reagan National Airport. For debarkation, we had a leisurely breakfast, took the elevator down to the Passport Bar on Deck 3 where a Celebrity staffer assisted my wife with the wheelchair and off we went to the baggage terminal. Only a small portion of the bags had been offloaded and were waiting in the baggage claim area, but we didn't need to find ours because of the valet service, so we went straight to immigration, had our passports checked and customs form taken, and went straight out to get a taxi to the airport. We were at the Ft. Lauderdale airport by just after 8:30, about a half hour from the time we vacated our stateroom.
From what I've read, many people complained of long lines that backed up the debarkation process all the way from the baggage building back into the ship and from the Deck 2 exit back up the double sets of stairs at least up to Deck 3. There are serious issues at this terminal, especially because the baggage and immigration building is too small and there are not enough immigration/customs officers to handle the departure of 3000 passengers efficiently. By comparison, Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas use a large, modern facility at Port Everglades that easily and efficiently handles more than twice as many passengers as Eclipse. With respect to embarkation, I do recommend arriving at the terminal by 10 so you can be among the first passengers on board. Even if you are not handicapped or do not have Captain's Club Elite status, you'll have very short lines to check in and you will be allowed to board in the order you arrive in the boarding waiting area. By noon, the Oceanview Cafe gets very crowded with passengers and their carry-on luggage. Still, I do think an excellent cruise line such as Celebrity that offers such a refined cruise product should have a more efficient embarkation, and especially debarkation, process.
Captain's Club Elite Activities: Frequent cruisers on Celebrity who have reached the Elite status in their Captain's Club loyalty program are offered a number of perks during the cruise. These include discounted and complimentary laundry coupons, and discount coupons for use at the spa, the casino, in the shops, and in the specialty restaurants. The loyalty ambassador, in this case a nice young man from the Netherlands named Remko, kept everyone informed about special tours, wine-tasting, teas, and receptions for Elite members, and every morning Elite members were able to have a continental breakfast with fresh squeezed orange juice and even cocktails in the refined and relaxing atmosphere of the Tuscan Grille. True, you'd need to go to the Oceanview Cafe or main dining room or Bistro on 5 for a hot breakfast, but we found the Elite member breakfast in the Tuscan Grille a peaceful respite from the madhouse up in the Oceanview Cafe and took advantage of this perk several times throughout the cruise.
By far the most popular Elite activity on Celebrity cruises is the evening cocktail party between 5 and 7 p.m. held each day but the first day and the evening when the Senior Officer's Reception for Elite members is held. Throughout the fleet, until recently, Elite members have been able to enjoy complimentary cocktails of their choice, along with hors d'oeuvres either in Michael's Club or the Sky Lounge, depending on the number of Elite members on board, and meet and mingle with fellow Elite passengers throughout the cruise. For the first time beginning this past year, however, on select sailings where the number of Elite members was too high, and our sailing had a reported 600 Elite members, Celebrity has cancelled the evening Elite cocktail parties and distributed 3 vouchers per Elite member (or a total of 6 in our stateroom) for use at most of the bars during the 5-7 p.m. timeframe. Vouchers are only good for a selection of cocktails, and there are no accompanying hors d'oeuvres.
This new policy for Elite members has become quite controversial on the Cruise Critic forums. My sense is that there are pros and cons: the pros being that one can sample drinks from many different venues, and actually take their drinks to the dining room with them, which is not permitted at the Elite Cocktail parties. Every night some of us not only brought a drink to the table, but also stepped out during the early seating dinner to the nearby Passport Bar to get a refill before the 7 p.m. deadline. Nevertheless, on the whole I do prefer the Elite cocktail party to the voucher system. For one thing, the bars were twice as busy as usual with 600 Elite members joining everyone else for pre-dinner drinks; it could not have been fun for the bartenders and bar waiters, who weren't adding to their gratuity pool but had to work at least twice as hard to accommodate the extra customers. For another, I do enjoy having the opportunity to see many of the same people evening after evening, although we tended to go to the same bar most evenings and saw many of the same Elite members there. In sum, the voucher system worked pretty well for us on this cruise. It seems likely that this trend will continue because the Celebrity passenger demographic consists mostly of retirees who sail often and so the number of Elite members will continue to increase on Celebrity cruises (except, perhaps during school holidays and the summer when more families comprise the passenger cohort). In a way Celebrity has been dinged by its own success, and those responsible for this success (the Captain's Club Elite members) are seeing a bit of a downgrade in their perks for being so loyal.
A Word about Cruise Critic: Not enough people say this, but what an amazing website is Cruise Critic! For many years I have taken advantage of learning about the cruise lines, the ships, the ports, and the cruising experience using the various forums. Almost any question can be, and usually is, answered. The Cruise Connection forum (for Celebrity, but there's an equivalent forum for most cruise lines) gives everyone an opportunity to meet fellow cruisers on their sailing in advance of the cruise, share common experiences, arrange private tours together, and even begin lasting friendships. The thread for our sailing began more than a year before the cruise, had more than 3000 separate entries by sailing time, and continues on to this day. Through our sailing's thread we were able to join privately arranged group tours where we saw more and paid less than taking similar tours through the cruise line, we met some wonderful people, we had more than 150 staterooms signed up for the Connections Party Celebrity held on the second full day at sea, and we organized in advance our own sail away party, stateroom crawl, mah jong games, trivia teams, and even pre-cruise dinners the night before sailing. If you haven't taken advantage of this amazing service yet, do yourself a favor and get involved in the Meet and Greet or Connections or equivalent forums on Cruise Critic for your next cruise.
Final Thoughts: Our 14-night southern Caribbean cruise on Celebrity Eclipse met or exceeded our expectations in almost every respect. More importantly, it proved to be exactly what we needed at exactly the right time -- a perfect mid-winter respite from the cold, the dampness, and from work. Was it the perfect cruise experience? Not quite, but that's a tall order for even a fine cruise line such as Celebrity. We sailed on one of the most beautiful ships afloat, with refined, attentive service and outstanding activities, an ideal itinerary -- and plenty of friendly fellow cruisers to share the experience; really -- what more could we have asked? Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
We took advantage of an opportunity to join a private 4-hour group tour that took us across the island for marvelous views of the sea from Shirley Heights and then to the Nelson's Dockyard complex. It was well worth the time, and following our tour we looked at a couple of shops before returning to the ship.
For this cruise we took advantage of an opportunity to join a privately organized tour of the "other side of Aruba," with rugged coastline and interesting rock formations that reminded me more of the Antrim Coast in Northern Ireland than a deep southern Caribbean island with a dessert climate (except for the cactus). The tour itself was quite interesting and allowed us to see the remains of the Natural Bridge and the Lighthouse, among other sights before we were dropped off in town to do a little shopping before walking back to the ship.
We hired a taxi to take us on a tour of the southern portion of the island, where the massive salt deposits are located, and where we were able to see many flamingos and some wild donkeys.
We hired a wonderful company (COSOL) for a private half-day tour for 4 of us that took us along winding mountain roads with beautiful vistas and through fishing villages heavily steeped in poverty as far south as Soufriere. During our many stops along the way we were treated to the "perfect" banana, and samples of perhaps two dozen types of food -- not to mention the beer, rum punch, and water. It was one of the best tours we've had in our many Caribbean port stops over the years.
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