SOUTHAMPTION EMBARKATION: We flew into Heathrow on Thurs AM from Boston and went immediately to Southampton. Stayed at the Novotel: good location, roomy and comfortable with free wi-fi in the lobby. Had an excellent dinner in hotel dining room on Thursday night. Was not happy with one-price breakfast buffet in the morning - BUT they had the most delicious oatmeal/porridge we've ever had -- truly amazing. Friday evening we ate at La Esquina, a Spanish Tapas Bar & Restaurant on Oxfort Street. Be sure to make a reservation as this is a very popular place for the locals. Delicious menu and they make the Sangria right there at the bar. We met the owner while we were wandering the town and he was great to talk to! Sure enough, he was there when we went for supper too! HIGHLY recommend this place! We walked the city on Friday -- along the old wall; saw some of the bombed out churches from the war. The Titanic sailed from Southampton. We went to the City Museum to see the Titanic display and it was excellent -- well worth seeing! Especially eyeopening was the room with a historical city map on the floor, with red boxes around each address on each street where someone was lost on the Titanic.So many red boxes! Interesting information on the people, the types of jobs on ship, the pay in those days, etc. Don't be daunted by the idea of learning about the Titanic before you are going on a cruise -- this is well worth the visit! An amazing piece of history and an excellet display and explanation. In terms of boarding the Eclipse, we were notified that boarding would start a bit later than expected: "several" people on the previous cruise had been ill and they were sanitizing the ship. There was a large notice in the Novotel lobby -- and Celebrity had called and left us a message in our hotel. This was a bit daunting -- but in reality, would much rather have ship well cleaned etc. So we boarded about 2 hours later than originally planned. Boarding went smoothly - very efficient with luggage tags etc.
ECLIPSE, THE SHIP: First sailed in 2010. A beautiful, spotless solstice-class ship with friendly & excellent service. There are so many places to get coffee, a drink, dine, relax, get away from everyone, socialize with others, engage in activities. There's even a glass-blowing show and a grassy section on the top deck! Most impressed that the Solstice line of Celebrity ships actively supports breast cancer research. Did not realize this until we were on board. Crew is friendly and efficient. Presence of crew and upper-level staff is apparent on the ship which I think is very good. Before going into dining areas, the Eclipse theatre etc, there are Purell stands and a crew member dispensing Purell sanitizer into your hands. When you reboard at a port, you must also have the sanitizer put on your hands. No problems at all on our cruise with illnesses.
STATEROOM: excellent decor & storage (under and above bed, roomy closet w/many hangers, desk/bureau with drawers; drawers & cabinet shelves in bathroom). Large screen wall TV: news, movies, your up-to-date account, etc. I always get chilly so asked for an extra blanket which was immediately brought to room and we had it for the entire cruise. At one point we had a slight problem with our sink draining, called and someone was there within 15 minutes to fix it. Never had another problem with it. We had the stateroom attendant take out the coffee pot and tray that was on our desk top so we would have more room for our things. We just went to the Ocean View Cafe, 3 decks above us, and brought coffee to our room when we wanted it / or lemondade etc. Rather to have more room on top of the desk/dresser when coffee is so readily and easily available. I was most impressed with the shower - it's roomy with great water pressure. Interesting and telling to read in the booklet about the Eclipse that several women were on the design team for the Solstice class ships. No wonder there's a small bar in the wall of the shower -- just the right place and height to place your foot as you shave your legs! Must remember this if we ever remodel our bathrooms at home! Our roomy deck had two comfy adjustable chairs & a table (see my review of stateroom 1245, on deck 10 by library). Because our cabin was on the "hump" of the ship, our deck was a bit larger. We did Concierge Class 2 for better choice of deck and stateroom also provides welcome bottle of champagne and a daily small tray of appetizers. Many who critique Concierge class and say the extra appetizers and one bottle of champagne don't make the extra cost worth it don't realize that it also has to do with deck and stateroom placement choices. Very worth it in our book!
DINING: we had our evening meals in the main, beautiful Moonlight Sonata dining room. We did the 2nd seating, requested & had a table for 2. We were in a more quiet area of the dining room -- off to one side and by a window. Really nice. Others who want to cruise to meet people request tables for 4 or 6 or 8. We wanted to be by ourselves and this was perfect! We found the second seating to be most convenient as we always had time after our shore excursions to relax, shower, etc. There is a two-sided menu: one with choices always available; other with offerings of the evening. The meals were always delicious & beautifully served. Some complain there aren't many vegetables. The always-available menu included a cauliflower side dish; and I often asked for it (which was delicious and came either with cheese or not) or a side dish of steamed broccoli. Both were delicious and cooked just right. Each night there are multiple salad, soup, entrÃ©e and dessert choices, including wonderful homemade ice cream - the pistachio is really good as is the vanilla! Our server, assistant server and sommalier were friendly and we really enjoyed getting to know them. With Celebrity, gratuities are automatically added to each person's "sea pass" (your on-ship bill): $12.50 per person for Concierge class, per day. We were so impressed with the service in the diing room that we wrote out individual notes and gave some extra to express our gratitude. I don't think many do this though.
We often had our breakfast and lunch in the Ocean View Cafe. It also offers dinner for those who want to dress more casually - although we enjoyed the Moonlight Sonata every evening and enjoy the "smart casual" dress code and the 3 formal nights. Ocean View Cafe has diverse offerings for lunch & breakfast multiple stations rather than one long cafeteria line - so we never had to wait, even at busier times. They also offer sushi in the afternoons -- and their afternoon scones with clotted cream and jam are amazing - incredibly flakey! We often had a healthy breakfast & lunch at the AquaSpa Cafe open to all. Egg-white omelets, papaya, mango were my favorite for breakfast; grilled tuna & yummy salads at lunch. There is no printed menu for this spot...you need to ask for the omlette and the grilled tuna (also offer grilled chicken breast). If it was advertised, I expect many would swamp this lovely small venue. Bistro on Five is a fun creperie lunch alternative for just $5 per person; quiet & relaxing. For the $5 per person you can have soup, salad, any number of crepes (we love the tuscan chicken), and dessert. Wine would be extra. We go here when we first board the ship to avoid the crowds in Ocean View. It's a really nice way to start the cruise! The Cafe al Bacio has espresso, lattes etc. for a fee but their pastries are free. You just need to go to the counter and point out what you want. The coffee eclair is delicious! We splurged every so often and picked up pastries to take to our room. We never felt the need to dine at the specialty restaurants, as M. Sonata was delicious and never got boring. There is an extra charge for the speciality dining rooms.
ENTERTAINMENT: We love to dance and were thrilled with theTop Notch Party Band: the 2 female vocalists are superb; take requests; many styles of music. The Runaways band was mediocre at best the drummer didnt know how to blend in we avoided them as did many people. The Ray Brown Jazz group was excellent and mellow. Two interactive nights were fun: Motown and Groove, with Eclipse orchestra and singers. The 1st night Celebrity Edge show in the main theatre was excellent. The second show we went to with the orchestra and dancers/singers was okay. We never went to see the comedian, piano player, or other individual shows as we were too busy dancing! We did attend the day-time lectures on sea days about the history of the Baltic and they were very good: informative and entertaining. We used the gym a lot free morning stretch and abs classes were great. They have all the equipment you would ever need including yoga mats and blocks, ellipticals, treadmills etc. No need to sign up for the extra classes for a fee. There is much to do on the ship on sea days or if you decide not to go ashore: hot glass blowing demos are fun and a signature offering of the Celebrity ships -- as is the green lawn of real grass on the top deck: perfect for playing bocce or just sitting on in the sun. There's even a room with ping pong tables that we came across! One day we went to a room for an activity that was listed as "Show Choir" thinking there would be a performance of the Celebrity singers - the ones who perform in the shows. We sat down and noticed there really wasn't any room for a show choir, and there appeared to be a director standing in front of the room by a keyboard, and people were walking in with sheet music. It turns out they'd been meeting (it was listed other times on the Celebrity Today activities listing) and they were learning songs. We're not singers so we quickly and quietly left. But for those who enjoy singing, what a neat activity and we were later told they actually did a performance on the smaller Celebrity stage for friends, family, crew etc. In terms of the pool area, were not pool users but there are outdoor and indoor (more protected) options which is good for the Baltic this time of year! I did an Art Tour of the ship with an I-pad provided by Guest Services: this is not advertised. I'd heard about it from another cruiser. You just need to ask Guest Services for the I-pad for the Art Tour and they'll set you up - no charge. Very fun and it gets you wandering all over the ship!
A special tour of the ship was offered that we signed up for: extra cost but oh so worth it! There was a small blurb about it in the daily Celebrity Today Newsletter placed in your cabin each evening telling about the next day's and upcoming events. We literally saw and learned about almost the entire ship. Top level folks talked with us and explained the workings of the ship including the bridge (Captain talked with us), engine room, helicopter pad (we went and stood outside on it!), mooring area with huge anchors and ropes, backstage of theatre; crew quarters for reading, relaxing, eating etc.; kitchen areas including walk-in huge freezers and refrigerators, seeing the waitstaff come in to get dishes during the lunch time. What was amazing to me was how spotless and clean even the back stairways and crew hallways were. There was a crew member painting the anchor casing! The tour culminated with a delicious lunch in the Tuscan Grill - we ordered off the menu and it included wine. I especially enjoyed the talk by the Training and Development Director about the crew, hiring, training, policies, etc. If this is offered, I recommend it highly! On a previous Celebrity cruise we toured the galley where they make pastries etc.which was very fun, but this tour was all inclusive and amazing!
PORTS: We did not go off the ship at the first port (Brugges) needed the relaxation and just truly enjoyed the calm and quiet of a mostly empty ship. Other ports were excellent. Did Copenhagen and Tallinn on our own. Found a Walking Tour of Tallinn produced by the Smithsonian at Smithsonian.com which was great! I'd printed it and we used it - very accurate and took us to some out-of-the-way places. Very easy to walk into Tallinn from the ship. We took a Celebrity provided shuttle into Copenhagen and walked much of the city - we elected to just walk back to the ship which was easy to do. Warning: the Little Mermain is really little -- very sweet. We used Celebrity excursions for other ports and found them to be excellent! Many use private tours of St Petersburg I did the research and the cost is now the same for Celebrity or private. And yes, it is true, the private companies arrange for your visas so you can tour with them. You just cannot get off the ship by yourself unless you've personally arranged for and gotten a Russian visa. We had a SUPERB guide for our Celebrity St Petersburg excursion who had us into the Hermitage with only 1 group ahead of us! She must have been an art history major as she was absolutely excellent! We were often the only ones in a room, standing right in front of original art treasures by Rembrandt, Renoir, Degas, etc. Amazingly we could take photos without flash. There is no air-conditioning so if you are there on a summer cruise, be forewarned to dress light and bring tissue or a handkerchief to wipe your brow! Also, you cannot bring backpacks into the museums you can leave them safely on the bus. See my port reviews for more info. We were on our cruise when the Summer Solstice was fast approaching so, for example, sunrise in Stockholm was at 3:46 AM and sunset was at 9:46 PM! I woke up at about 4:30 and was out on the deck (our veranda) the entire time, moving through the beautfiul archipelago, islands outside of the city itself. Absolutely beautiful. In Russia, one night we had a sky that had an absolute red streak across it. Picture a painting with the first lower part of the canvas as the black of the sea water; second layer, the black of the sky; third layer, a ragged red streak across the entire sky; and the top part of the canvas, the black sky. At this time of year, even when the sun set, the red sunset was still visible until the sun came up fully again! Just remarkable! Ah, Germany: we elected not to do Berlin as we couldn't see sitting on a bus for 3 hours to get there and 3 hours back. Instead we did the Celebrity shore excursion that included Lubbek, Germany -- and World Unesco sight. It was fabulous! If you are there, it is the home of a special brand of marzipan that is made with only 30% sugar. Our guide pointed out the store that is the world headquarters for it....we walked through the crowds in the store, passing up all the amazing shapes almond paste of this quality can be made into, and went upstairs to their restaurant. Very few people up there -- mainly locals. We had a delicious quiche, coffees, and almond cake to die for! Lubbek was narrow streets, medieval buildings, truly experiencing history.
Just an excellent cruise!