Embarkation: We arrived at noon and were surprised to find long lines had formed already. Passengers seem to arrive earlier each year. They were already streaming in when we disembarked at 10:00 two weeks later. Anyway, there was plenty of Celebrity staff on hand to expedite the process and we were on board in about 20 minutes.
The Ship: We enjoyed an Indian lunch at the Oceanview Cafe before being let in to our Deck 9 stateroom about 1 p.m. We were located conveniently near the forward elevators and stairs. Imam was our attentive steward, ably assisted. We were as impressed as a year ago by the cleanliness of our cabin and public areas.
Many passengers were from Europe, Canada and Northern states, anxious to sun bathe whenever possible. The result was that almost all lounge chairs were occupied and they were packed like sardines around the pool. This made us realize that, an attractive feature though it is, the top deck lawn makes poor use of precious outdoor space that could accommodate more sun lovers.
Dining: We booked the Select Dining option in the main dining room, Moonlight Sonata. We varied the time each day to fit in with theatre entertainment. Hostess Aleksandra was charming and efficiently seated passengers. We never had to wait more than a few minutes for a table for two.
There was no need to repeat the same a la carte plates in 14 nights at sea though we sometimes chose favorites from the classics side of the menu instead. The only disasters were a dreary duck plate and, on the last formal night, dry lobster tails.
We dined at the Murano Restaurant and greatly enjoyed the personalized service and special menu: highlights were lobster bisque, turbot, rack of lamb and Grand Marnier souffle. Another evening we ate at Tuscan Grille. The portions are delicious but too generous and the waiter willingly downsized them. Chateaubriand was a highlight.
Bistro on 5 is a peaceful alternative to Oceanview at lunch time: daily soups, paninis with chicken, steak or vegetable fillings and a choice of 16 different crepes. We always order yummy Grand Marnier crepes for desert.
There is a huge selection of breakfast and lunch plates up in the Oceanview. To avoid crowds, particularly on Sea Days, we ate breakfast there early.
I have a real problem with the blaring, intrusive music and wrote my complaint to Guest Relations. Soft background music is fine but loud songs and saxophone jazz gives no pleasure. I saw one poor man reading in the cafe with his fingers blocking his ears. Someone told me loud music is a catering trick to speed up restaurant turnover. People move out after 30 minutes.
We tried room service twice and were impressed how speedily the meals arrived and that the food was hot. The menu is limited however.
Entertainment & Activities: Sue Denning is a wonderful Cruise Director, visible all over the ship, tirelessly involving guests and staff in activities.
I can't resist live shows and went to the theater almost every night. As ever, the quality was unpredictable. Often it's a full house so get there early if you want a good seat. Top Shelf cappella quartet, the Ukrainian string trio and jazz band enlivened cocktail hours in Ensemble.
It's well worth spending an hour watching the Corning Glass-blowing demonstration on the top deck, no matter if you've seen it before. The young artisans are technically amazing and the commentary is fun and informative.
Beyond the Podium speaker Melinda Bates gave a fascinating account of the history of the White House and its occupants, which she learnt during eight years as a key member of Bill Clinton's staff: a very accomplished speaker.
Shore Excursions: We had visited all eight ports at least once before and decided to try three approaches to find something new: Eclipse Shore Excursions, private CC group tours and doing it on our own:
St Thomas on our own: Eclipse docked a ten minute ride from downtown Charlotte Amalie. We took an open bus for $4 pp each way. That was the set price and applied also to the taxi that brought us back on our own.
Tax-free shopping at Dynasty Dazzlers at 5177 Dronningens Gade got us two liter bottles of Cointreau for $42 with free delivery to the ship. $82.50 for a bottle of Paloma Picasso perfume and at $45 a two-bottle pack of Clinique moisturizer was a bargain.
Delicious Belgian Chocolates at Royal Dane Mall can be delivered to your cabin. For hand-crafted, high quality jewelry, go to Okidanokh which has two shops now, one on Royal Dane Mall. Abel Fabri and family have been working in gold, metals and gems on St Thomas for over 30 years.
Go to Bumpa's for a cool drink and people-watching from their second floor terrace overlooking the harbor.
St. Maarten on our own: Downtown Philipsburg is ten minutes on foot from the dock and offers a pleasant beach and boardwalk as well as shopping streets. We picked out short-sleeved bamboo fiber shirts from Cariloha at 23 Front Street and Dutch specialty foods to take home at a large supermarket two blocks behind.
Antigua Shore Excursion: Based on TripAdvisor recommendations for the Excellence catamaran trip around the island, we emailed them before leaving. Their reply was correct (and surprising!) that we could save money by booking Celebrity's "See Antigua by Sea". It was a memorable day. The catamaran is large and we were told it can take up to 150 passengers. We had assumed there would be far less, true of Eclipse passengers but we were joined by many more from Emerald Princess and Sandals Resort. We stopped at Green Island for a swim and snorkel -- disappointingly few fish as the reef is virtually dead. The BBQ was fine. Gary provided an informative and humorous commentary as we circled Antigua, including dipping into Nelson's Dockyard. Loud music and rum punch kept the crowd happy, particularly the younger folk.
St Lucia CC Group: This was our third visit to St Lucia, for us perhaps the most beautiful Caribbean island. Having enjoyed COSOL and Spencer Ambrose tours to the Pitons in prior years, we coordinated a small group tour to the North with Serenity Travel. Their responsiveness in advance was reassuring. The assigned guide and driver met us on the dock and took good care of us. Starting with a visit to the cathedral in downtown Castries, we proceeded to Caribelle Batik. Located in a charming old house with magnificent views, you can watch the batik dye process and purchase locally produced clothes and handcrafts.
Then on to Pigeon Island national park for swimming on the beach and an optional hike up the hill behind to Fort Rodney, with sensational views of coastline and mountains.
Barbados on our own: Our third visit to Barbados and we particularly wanted to go to Anthony Hunte's Garden, highly acclaimed on TripAdvisor. As before, we arranged to meet Cameron Reid, a well-respected and knowledgeable local guide. He managed to pull together an ad hoc group on the dock and took us to see the homes of the "rich & famous" as well as more typical local residential areas and on a scenic drive through rural Barbados. Anthony Hunte, whose family has lived on Barbados since the 17th century, was at the garden gate to greet us and explain how he had set up and developed his beautiful acreage. Maria Callas' taped voice enhanced the visual effect.
Grenada on our own: On our last visit we saw historical sites, tropical forests and enjoyed the spice experience. Based on justified TripAdvisor recommendations, this time we hired a taxi at the port to take us on a 20-minute drive to Jessamine Eden botanic garden. We were the first visitors on Sunday, greeted by very friendly staff and Heidi, the equally amiable dog. We walked the nature trails, viewed the glass-sided bee hive in the tropical garden, drank lemon grass tea and tried their fresh-baked banana bread. Before leaving, we bought several pots of their international Silver Medal-winning honey to take home. The driver waited to take us back to the ship.
Aruba Shore Excursion: We can recommend the Mi Dushi "Great Escape". The wooden sailing ship, built in 1925, was expertly helmed by Capt. Mario and his crew, with only about 25 passengers -- all from Eclipse. In spite of a strong wind, Mario kept us on a comfortable course to two different wrecks for snorkeling. There were some fish to be seen in spite of the waves that churned up sand. After an excellent lunch, accompanied by soft drinks or alcohol, the more intrepid guests swung overboard on a rope and flung themselves into the water.
Curacao CC Group: Eight of us were met at the dock by Henry Platte, a guide recommended in CC reports. He is well-informed and speaks excellent English. After a brief swing around the old districts of Willemstad we headed west to Christoffel National Park with mountainous scenery. A short walk took us to the edge of the ocean where waves breaking on Boka Pistola threw spray a hundred feet into the air, an awe-inspiring sight. On the way back we stopped to swim and snorkel at a popular private beach, Porto Marie.
Disembarkation: Not a good experience. We were scheduled to leave the ship at in a group at 8:30 am but our group wasn't called by 8:45. We left the ship anyway and found a seemingly endless, shuffling line of people. It was 10:00 by the time we reached Immigration and saw the cause of the jam: only three officers to process 2000 passengers.