Having read the hype and reviews about how much better than P&O Celebrity are, we decided to give them a try. We have done 3 P&O cruises previously, with Azura being the best ship so far, and Aurora also nice. During our 14 night Baltic cruise my wife and I (mid 50's) often found ourselves saying how we preferred various aspects of P&O to Eclipse, so are likely to go back to them.
Eclipse is a lovely ship and its strong points are its luxury (particularly the seats and padded loungers!), modern features, diverse crew and passengers, and cleanliness. On the down side, we found the food, service and entertainment lacking in some aspects.
Things didn't get off to a good start when we were informed a few days before departure that this would be delayed as the ship was being deep cleaned before embarkation, due to a Norovirus outbreak. Embarkation was therefore compressed into a short period and involved a lot of queuing, but the ship only left Southampton about an hour late. The early part of the cruise was rather dominbated by anti-Norovirus measures, but we understood the need for this and it seemed to work. At the end of the cruise, we found the disembarkation process to be well-organised, although our baggage seemd to have been roughly handled.
Accomodation: Our stateroom (8325 - standard balcony) was spacious and well laid out with good storage. The bathroom was particualrly impressive. The ship was in great condition (but only 3 years old) and spotlessly clean. There is a range of bars and restaurants but we were surprised that only the Sky Observatory (deck 14) had any views, whereas P&O ships tend to have several 'crowsnest'-type bars. A pity there is no 'prom-deck', with the nearest equivilent being the 'jogging track' around one of the upper decks.
Food: We chose the Select Dining option but found that the promised option to book a table in advance was not available until after 8.00pm, so didn't bother with that. The first few meals were pretty chaotic as we were told we would have to wait for a table for two and were asked to wait in a bar until we were fetched - after half an hour we had obviously been forgotten but were eventually shown to a table. Next night we had a short wait but were at least given a time to come back rather than left waiting. Other nights we were seated at a table for 2 on demand, so that was good, although some of these tables are so close together that you may as well be on a table for 4. The food and service in the main 'Moonlight Sonata' restaurant were good but not up to P&O's standards. We were surprised by the small portion sizes (especially for an American line) and soon learnt that you need to order the vegetable side dishes if you are expecting a full meal.
The self service restaurant was also rather chaotic for the first few days due to a Norovirus outbreak on the previous cruise, which meant that staff were serving all the portions in this normally self-service restaurant. This made breakfast and lunchtime meals a real ordeal with queues for everything, so we used room service to order breakfast until 'normal service' was resumed. Normal service was OK but would have been so much easier if trays were provided. Without them you have to keep going backwards and forwards for every item, resulting in cold food and unecessary queues. I have to say that the range of food available was not as wide as P&O and was not varied much at all during the whole cruise. Watch out for staff offering fresh orange juice or other drinks - you have to pay extra for them.
Our worst food experience by far was Qsine, for which we had to pay $45 each extra. It advertises itself as a unique and different eating experience, but we found this was for the wrong reasons. You use iPads to look at the dishes and order, which was a novelty that very soon wore off. We asked the waiter for help but his main advice seemed to be that whatever you order, what you get will be different. We told him what we did/didn't like and agreed on the first few dishes (no courses, just a series of dishes). These started to appear (slowly) in no particular order, other than that each dish seemd designed to clash with the one before. As they were all rather rich and sickly to start with, we gave up after the first few as we were both feeling too sick to eat anything more. At least this saved us from the 'delights' of the Rubik-cube style dessert menu, which would have really finished us off. We were amazed to hear that several people were on their 2nd or 3rd visit to Qsine, but one was more thsn enough for us! In fact, after a rather rich meal the following evening I was sick and confined to my cabin for the next day (missing one of our two St Petersburg days). I attibute this mainly to the delights of Qsine.
Entertainment: This was disappointing in some respects. The comedians were all excellent and the shows were good, but why only 3 full 'shows' during the whole 14 night cruise? Its not as though the entertainers seemed to be busy doing other things, as there was very little sign of them around the ship, on deck, at sail aways, etc. The lack of deck entertainment and sail aways was one of the biggest differences from P&O and a large disappointment. Arrival and departure from port had about as much sense of occasion as arriving at or leaving a bus stop. In fact it was quite easy to be bored if you don't want to spend money on shopping, gambling or pampering, or can't eat/drink any more. Going back to the main 'shows', some were very specialist (piano player, flautist, singer) and would have been better suited to some of the bars, not the main theatre (from what I saw a lot of people walked out of these shows). In fact the piano player was playing in a bar most nights so it seemed he was used to provide a main show 'on the cheap'.
Service: All the staff were very friendly and this seemed to go beyond just a 'have a nice day' culture. However, if you are sitting or sunbathing on deck you will be very lucky to find a waiter to serve you a drink, and even in some of the bars they could do with a few more. The deck areas are very nice, with really comfortable loungers and wicker chairs. The grassed area is a novelty but it is surprising that so little use is made of it as it covers a large part of the upper decks (admittedly the weather didn't help). You can't put chairs, etc on the grass and a large part was roped off ('resting') for the whole cruise.
Overall: Eclipse is a lovely ship and very comfortable, but we found it a luxurious way to get from port to port, not an entertaining holiday. If we hadn't cruised with P&O before our experience on Eclipse might have lead us to conclude that cruising was rather boring. While we may consider Celebrity again, our preference was definitely for P&O and we won't be going out of our way to choose Celebrity (or paying their higher fares).
Did hop-on bus and canal trip which were really good.
A lovely port and made a nice change from the palaces, etc of the other ports.