You can read this entire review with photos as well as our pre-cruise info and our Ports of Call reviews by clicking here: http://www.koobraey.com/balticreview/index.html
The main purpose of our three week trip to Europe in June 2013 was a two week cruise through the Baltic Sea on Celebrity's Eclipse. Eclipse is a Solstice-class ship which means she and her four sister ships are Celebrity's largest. We had previously sailed on Solstice herself on her eighth or ninth sailing back in 2009. My review from that cruise was not the most positive. My feeling then was that this ship was too big. I didn't think I had made a HUGE deal out of of it but I guess I did since all my friends were worried I wouldn't like Eclipse. Well I am here to say that after four years (with the HUGE exception of the buffet) X has gotten the big ship right. I loved Eclipse. Really loved her.
One note that changed this cruise for us. On this cruise we were covered by Celebrity's 1-2-3 promotion. Even though we had booked this cruise before the promotion was offered because we found out about it through Cruise Critic we went back to our Travel Agent (TA) and had her get it for us. The 1-2-3 promotion was originally set up to give a cruiser who booked a cruise during a specific time frame either one of three (originally) items free. You could choose from having all your gratuities paid for (approximately a $15 per person/per day value), an on-board credit of $300 per person or a Classic beverage package (all alcoholic or usually chargeable non-alcoholic/specialty coffee drinks that cost less than $8.50) were free. When the promotion started you picked one of the three. When they really started trying to up their bookings they offered a choice of any two. Finally they offered their Elite Captain's Club (their loyalty program's highest tier--that we are in) all three. We booked it and got all three.
On a cruise we do not usually drink that much. We might have one pre-dinner drink (usually a free one in the Elite lounge), split a bottle of wine with friends or over two nights at dinner and then possibly a post-dinner martini in the Martini Bar. But after getting the Classic package we realized that since the rule with that package was that if you wanted to purchase a drink that was more than the $8.50 allowed by the Classic package, you had to pay the entire charge for the drink. Not the difference between them. That meant that if we had a single martini in the martini bar, we paid $12. Not the difference between the $8.50 we got for free and the $12 cost of the martini. The same was true with pretty much every bar and wine source (the Classic package gave us free wine by the glass in the dining room but only the lesser wines).
So we realized pre-cruise that if we bought just one martini a day, we would spend $12 for it. That was a likely occurrence. The solution was to upgrade on day one of the cruise to a Premium package. This meant that we could drink just about any cocktail on the ship for free and a much better choice of wine in the dining room. It also meant that all specialty coffee drinks were free as well as high-end teas and juices that were normally charged for. The cost for the upgrade was only $10.50 per day per person (less than the cost of a single martini) so it was a no-brainer for us to buy it with the free on-board credit we had been given as part of the 1-2-3 promotion.
The Best part of the Trip
The best part of this trip was the cruise. The entire thing. From start to finish. The ship was great, the crew as great, almost every single thing was great. Yes, I had tiny quibbles and I will state them below but just about everything we had contact that had to do with the cruise was outstanding. I will cover the ports later and I have a few things to say about our tours but things on the whole were superb.
To begin with X turned a bad situation into a good one right off the bat. We had just arrived in London when received an e-mail from X stating that there was noro-virus on board and that our embarkation would be delayed until at least 2:30 pm. Of course we weren't thrilled to say the least. We had planned to check out of the Alcantra House at 10 (their check out time) and arrive at the port by 10:30, drop our luggage and then wait 30 minutes to board and be having lunch by noon and in our cabins by 1:30. That was not to be. In fact we were really apprehensive that we would still be out of our cabins until dinner.
But that didn't happen. X's response was outstanding. We were told we could drop our checked bags anytime after 10 and that there would be a shuttle bus that would take us to a nearby mall. We could hang out there until they sent the shuttle busses back for us. And not only that, when we got off the bus they told us to be back at a specific time. So since we were on one of the earliest busses, we were told we could reboard at 3:00 pm.
We met some British friends, left our carry-ons in their car and then found a restaurant for lunch. At 2:30 we reported to the bus, were taken back to the port and by 3:30 we were standing on board drinking champagne. Smoothest embarkation EVER! I have to mention that we are X Elite and so there was a separate line (much faster than previous Elite lines) so that really helped. Once on board we parked ourselves in Michael's Club and I went to check on our Qsine reservations and stopped by the Molecular Bar for our first drink of the cruise. (More about booze later.) Less than five minutes after I got back to Michael's Club, they cleared out stateroom and lo and behold when we got to the cabin, Kathleen's bag was waiting for her outside. Mine arrived a few moments later and we were all set.
After an easy muster/lifeboat drill we dressed and headed to meet up with our Cruise Critic group on the aft deck for our sail-away get together.
Our Cruise Critic Roll Call
If you are new to cruising then you may not know about Cruise Critic or Cruise Critic roll calls. There is one for every cruise. We have been avid Cruise Critic roll callers since our first Celebrity (X) cruise in 2004. We have met all our best friends on these roll calls and we continue to meet great people on every cruise and this one on Eclipse was no exception. Our group was outstanding. A few years ago I started doing websites for our roll calls (you can see the one for this cruise here) It has been great to meet all these people and know what they look like and help them to get to know the people they would be sailing with.
We met some of the best people ever on this cruise and became friends with so many of them. We had a HUGE group of more than 100 registered for the Meet and Mingle and around 35 very active new best friends that actually got involved and had a great time with all of us. To all of them, I say thanks for being the best bunch of new friends we have made'since our last cruise. We had a blast with you.
Thanks to a recommendation from our good friends Mike and Carol Preisman who have sailed on other Solstice-class ships, we chose a 1A cabin with veranda that was "on the hump." They were two cabins away. The Solstice-class ships have about a 20 cabin hump on both sides of the ship that sticks out and provides larger verandas than others as well as WONDERFUL cabin placement with a view from the veranda to the front of the ship. By "wonderful cabin placement" I mean they are perfectly situated as far as being near the elevators and the stairs at midships. Far enough from the elevators and stairs to not hear any noise but close enough for easy access. Right next to the card room which was always busy but is so well insulated we never knew it.
I cannot recommend these cabins enough. On the Solstice-class ships every other room has the bed by the glass door to the veranda and vice-versa. We had never had a cabin with a bed by the window and we were hoping to book one this time. We loved it. Gives you so much more room near the bathroom (there is small couch) and closet that it is easily a much better choice. We would also always hope to get one of these cabins again.
The not-so-great part of the cabins is storage. For a two week cruise, there just isn't enough. There are six small drawers in the combination desk/dresser and an above-the-bed cupboard that is as wide as the bed and split into two sides. This is accessible by anyone under 6 feet only by climbing onto the bed. There is adequate cupboard space in the bathroom but I really missed the cupboard over the closet that we had in our Century and Infinity cabins. That's where I store my dirty clothes as well as pants and shirts. There are no real night stands (just three small shelves) so that didn't help either. I will say that the beds on Eclipse sit higher than those on Century as we could easily fit our suitcases under the beds without jamming them as I have to on Century. That's where I ended up keeping dirty clothes.
The bathroom is nicely appointed with a glass/plastic enclosure for the shower as opposed to a shower curtain. A nice size shower too. Our cabin was 9209 and I would book it again in a minute.
Public Areas and Restaurants
We loved the public areas in this ship. They were gorgeous, clean and well taken care of. Special notice to a few of them.
Bistro on Five
We love Bistro on Five. It's a quiet place to have lunch. Yes, it costs $5 but I would gladly pay that for a quiet, delicious lunch of crepes or panini. One night (after a long day in St. Petersburg) we even went for dinner. We probably ate there at least 5 times on this trip. Each meal was super and worth so much more than $5. Their soups are delicious. I wish I had a bowl of their seafood bisque right now.
For those unfamiliar, Qsine is one of the three (four if you count the aforementioned Bistro on Five) that include Murano (French-Continental) and Tuscan Grille (Italian and MEAT). We had eaten at Tuscan Grille on Solstice and in Murano on numerous ships so we skipped them but this was our first time on a ship with Qsine. Qsine serves interesting food. I love interesting food. To give you some idea of what I am talking about, check out the pictures. Some advice about Qsine. First, go with as many people as possible. They have more than 20 items on the menu to share. The more people you have, the more you get to try. We went with a party of 10 from our Cruise Critic group and we had a great time.
You order off iPads (not really but the menu is listed on them) and then they bring you enough food for everyone to try a little of each dish you order. Don't worry that you won't get enough. Since we had 10 people we were allowed to order 10 dishes. But we told them to stop after nine. We were stuffed. And we had to leave room for dessert. All of the food was great. I could have used a little more spice in some of them but we loved most of it. The high point for me were the M & Ms which is a huge box of Mediterranean goodies. Delicious. Most everyone agreed on that. What everyone but me agreed upon was the lobster-escargot. These were big chunks of lobster served in a tray like escargot with the garlic butter. Inside of the lobster rolls were escargot. Everyone tried them but I was the only one who liked them. Avoid them unless you LOVE escargot.
Dessert was interesting as well. See the start of it at left. We had a great time. I do have one tiny quibble'what's with the paper napkins? They are cheesy, insufficient and worthless. Everywhere else on the ship (including the buffet and room service) we got cloth napkins. Here we get cheesy paper ones.
Another quick note about the food. I felt the food in general in the main dining room was fine. Not super, not incredible, just fine. That's what it's supposed to be. Dinner for me is mostly about socializing and we did plenty of that with our wonderful table mates. See my note about the service below. We ate almost all our dinners there except the night we went to Qsine and one night we went to Bistro on Five. We aren't room service people and we are not big fans of the buffet (see the bottom of this review) and the main dining room food was just fine. Half our lunches on this cruise were off the ship in ports and the other half were either Bistro on Five, once in the dining room and the rest in the buffet.
For those sailing on this itinerary, formal nights (when most everyone was observing the dress code) were the second night (Brugges), the night we were in Tallinn and the second to the last sea day. Very well placed with lots of time for dressing and partying after. Kudos on the choice.
Celebrity was nice enough to arrange a bridge tour for all our Cruise Critic group and we almost skipped it since we have done so many of them but we had not been on the bridge of a Solstice-class ship so we decided to go. Glad we did. Outstanding and super technology. Really well done.
Cafe Al Bacio
Because we had the aforementioned Premium drink package we got all our specialty coffee drinks free. This is a very good and bad thing. First let me say that most coffee on the ship (just plain coffee) is bad. Especially in the buffet. My after dinner cup of decaf was usually OK but the actual coffee was horrid in most places. This has been true forever. It's one of the things I most complain about X. That said, on previous cruises (once we were Captain's Club Elite) we would eat breakfast in the Aqua Spa cafe or the buffet and then head to the Elite lounge for coffee. But not on this cruise. We stopped by the Elite cafe a couple of times but mostly we hit Cafe Al Bacio. This centrally located coffee bar serves outstanding espresso-based drinks (a full menu), has a great staff and the coolest way ever to serve iced tea. And because of the 1-2-3 promotion, we got all of that (normally chargeable) free! The other reason this was a good thing on this port-intensive cruise was time. Many times we were off the ship in the morning before the Elite breakfast even started. And many times we had to rush to get ready to go ashore. So I would shower and dress first, take our sea-pass cards to Cafe Al Bacio and get two lattes to go and bring them back to the cabin while Kathleen was getting ready. It worked great.
The Molecular Bar
We belong to a group called the Martini Mates. We (six of us) have been close friends since we first sailed together in 2005. Four of us were on this trip and we normally spend all our "bar time" in the Martini Bar but that's because we have never been on a ship with a Molecular Bar before. The only way I can describe the Molecular Bar is that it is a Qsine for drinks. On this cruise we had one martini. Most cruises we have one every night. The one we had wasn't that good. This cruise we spent most of our time in the Molecular Bar drinking amazing drinks prepared by our favorite member of the crew Barbara and her faithful companion Jelena (that's them at right). These two made us feel so welcome and so special that once we tried one of their amazing drinks we never left. If you are aboard Eclipse go to the Molecular Bar (Deck 5 behind Cafe Al Bacio) and tell Barbara that the crazy Martini Mates miss her.
About two weeks after originally writing this I had an epiphany. There was one thing I suddenly realized about the Molecular Bar. It happened when Kathleen and I were out for dinner at one of our favorite restaurants. It's not a criticism, just an observation. The drinks in the Molecular Bar have a lot less alcohol in them than other drinks on board. I am an alcohol wimp. Even as big as I am, two drinks makes me tipsy and three means I would NEVER consider driving. On some nights, I had four or five drinks in the Molecular Bar and felt nothing. In fact, if anything, I was more alert than usual. My thought is that these great drinks are mostly fruit juices and foams. The only time on the cruise when I felt any effects from alcohol was the night I decided I wanted a negroni and went to find one at another bar. Again, this isn't a criticism, just an observation.
Now I know many of you don't use the gym but I do. And I can tell you this one is outstanding. But it should be, all the equipment is less than three years old and the place is well laid-out and was not usually that crowded. Especially at the end of the cruise. On the first sea day it was packed by 7:00 am. On the last sea day, I was one of only three people in the gym at 7:00 am. I will say that I and one of our table mates had some problems with the staff. My problem was their punctuality. On two different occasions the gym, that was supposed to open at 6:00 am was still closed when I arrived after 6:30. Both times I had to go down to Guest Relations and have them call and wake up the guy who should have opened it. I can see this happening once in a while but not twice on the same cruise. Get this guy an alarm clock.
Our table mate was (in her and my estimation) totally dis-respected by the gym staff when she arrived to a spin class she had signed up for and taken on previous days only to find that all her reserved bike had been given away to someone new. That was an easy mistake on someone's part but the disrespect came when she stood there for 15 minutes right in front of the instructor and he totally ignored her. That's just wrong.
One major improvement
Over our past few cruises our biggest complaint about X has been the music. Specifically, the loud, techno music being played in the bars that would and could drown out all conversation. It didn't fit the bars, it was too loud and it was just bad. In fact it was so bad that we often paid the bartender to turn it down. Seriously. On Century to Hawaii in November we asked to have it turned down every night.
On Eclipse (and I am assuming all the other S-class ships) they now have live entertainment on the 3rd deck in the atrium that is played loud enough that you can hear it in all the bars (including the Martini Bar) that face on to the atrium. And when whatever live group was playing started playing, the bars turned off the techno. YAHOO! And in most cases the music was either unobtrusive (classical string quartet) or great jazzy, dance music. What was really funny is that by moving to the Molecular Bar we got back to techno since the Molecular isn't on the main atrium. But that was OK since Barbara would turn it down (only in the early evenings Gideon) for us so we could talk.
The one night we went to the Martini Bar before dinner we were sitting talking with Mike and Carol with the techno music blaring and the string quartet started playing two floors down. The techno went off. The quartet was marvelous and we returned to our conversation. Well done X. Appropriate, fun music. Outstanding.
A few tiny quibbles and observations
Was there anything bad'sure. But just little things. Like the aforementioned lack of storage in the cabin. Here's my list of things that didn't measure up to my Celebrity expectations but were very acceptable.
Dining room service
The dining room service was the worst we have ever had on Celebrity. Not bad service, just not good service as we have come to expect on X. Our waiter and his assistant must have been new to X or new to having to manage their own tables. As best as I could tell they only had two tables of eight to take care of and every night we were the last ones served at the tables around us. It seemed like they were behind from the get-go every night. Not sure why. We had a marvelous table by the way. Carol and Mike, Kathleen and I and four of the most fun Brits we have ever met. Ken and his wife June and her best friend Hilary and her daughter Andrea. Haven't had that much fun with new table mates in years. I need to add here that they had never sailed on X before and they thought our service was the best they had ever had. So I guess it's just a matter of comparison. If I go back in my previous review I find that I have always raved about the service in the dining room. I find that I have named every waiter and assistant waiter we have ever had. Not this time. Honestly, if I hadn't taken a photo of our waiter's name on the first night of the cruise, I wouldn't have any idea who he was. That's not X service.
(Note from Kathleen - I had a real problem with our sommelier. For some reason he didn't seem to like me. He would ignore me. He would always take my order after he talked to Jim. Huh?? He treated the other ladies at the table just fine but would ignore me. He was not my favorite crew person).
OMG! How could I forget this total bore who ignored my wife. Plus once we had told him we were going to take the Reidel wine glass seminar he spent the rest of the cruise trying to sell us another wine event. Every other night he would try and sell us another event and every time we would tell him, "no thank you." But two days later he would be back interrupting our dinner to try and sell us another one.
The Cruise Director was Ian from Australia. We had sailed with Ian on our Down Under cruise on Century in early 2012 and were totally unimpressed with him as a Cruise Director. This trip did nothing to change that view. We have sailed with some great Cruise Directors over the years and I think Ian is probably the most mediocre we have sailed with. He is very young and that might be the problem. I always felt like he was trying way too hard. Maybe (using a baseball analogy) he needs more time in the minors. Like being knocked back to the Events Coordinator.
(Another note from Kathleen - I think Ian was more suited for the Australia/New Zealand cruise than this cruise. To me, this was a more formal cruise than the Aussie cruise. Ian seemed out of place here.)
Speaking of the Events Coordinator, at the Cruise Critic Meet and Mingle I asked the Events Coordinator (whose name I cannot remember) if he could help us set up a lunch in the dining room on the last day of the cruise. We had done this previously on Century on two cruises and before that on Solstice. In each of those cases, the Events Coordinator jumped to help. They set up reservations, they sent out invites, they (in one case) arranged for a photographer to take our pic. On this occasion I was told, "We don't do that. You will just need to show up at the dining room and tell the maitre'd how many of you there are." That's not the Celebrity service I expected based on past experiences. By the way, we did just that and the maitre'd took care of us but it still would have been better if the Events Coordinator had done what others had done on previous cruises.
The Aqua Spa Cafe
We like to have breakfast in the Aqua Spa Cafe. It's a small venue that is usually quiet, usually welcoming and usually open. The choices are healthier (granola, blueberries and yogurt for me) and it's less jarring than the buffet. But on this cruise we were disappointed to find that it didn't open on port days in most cases until after we were off the ship (8:30 am). That's pretty worthless. And when they were open, the offerings (for breakfast) were sporadic. Yogurt every day, berries once in a while, granola once in a while. Parfaits with all three, very sporadic. As I said, these are all little quibbles but when I would ask if they had any I was treated very curtly. It was like I was asking for the moon when I asked if there were any yogurt parfaits on a particular day. You would think I had asked if they had a steak dinner.
The shows--After Dinner Entertainment
A number of people on the Cruise Critic boards always ask about the shows, the after dinner entertainment. We don't do the shows on a regular basis. We did see a few and our buddy Mike Preisman will have pics and full reviews of all of them on his website. I can tell you that the one night we saw the entire show it was a singer/comic from Wales named Mike Doyle. He was a pretty good singer but he was a HILARIOUS comic. We just about rolled on the floor with his impersonation of the Captain doing the daily navigational briefing. His name was Mike Doyle and if you are onboard and he is performing, don't miss it.
We also attended about half of the Cirque-style show that was pretty much just like every other Cirque-style we have ever seen and we have seen way too many of them. The same is true of the Broadway show and the other formal night shows which are usually big production numbers. We would rather socialize with friends.
The ugly (things I really hated)
Two things stand out for me as really ugly on this ship and this cruise. One is a design flaw, the other can be fixed by replacing a particular crew member.
All my cruising friends (which is most of my friends) give me a hard time about the buffet on Solstice-class ships. They know that I really hated the buffet on Solstice and that I love the buffet on Century. Now I HATE the buffet on Eclipse as well. Why? Because of the chaotic design of it. I know, I know the stations vs line argument but I am so sick of walking through the buffet and having the person walking in front of me make sudden stop or someone I can see walking towards a particular station suddenly swerves to another line right in front of me. It's chaos. I hate chaos. I like order. I like buffet lines. I like trays. My friends know this so well that Mike and Carol even bought me a tray and brought it on board and presented it to me on the first day of the cruise.
Strangely, it was little better the first few days of the cruise. That's because with the noro-virus problem they had a crew member at every station to serve you. That meant that each station only had one point of entry to get food. That gave it some semblance of logic and organization. A few days later when they released the stations things went back to their normal, chaotic way of serving food. People would just jump in and out of lines and stations wherever they wanted to.
One day at breakfast I even had to dodge two about-10 year olds whose parents were letting them play hide and seek in the buffet. Ridiculous. Just added to the normal chaos. Give me the old wait-in-line buffet any time. I hate this.
The worst Celebrity crew member I have ever (not) met
Normally I would never single out a particular member of the crew to chastise for anything but this one crew member was in a place of importance to some of Eclipse's most important passengers and he did his job so poorly that I heard about it from a number of different people while onboard in addition to experiencing it myself.
I am in marketing. It is my belief (as well as the belief of many other marketing professionals) that you spend a great deal of your marketing effort on your best customers, your repeat customers, making sure that they come back over and over again as well as telling friends about how much they love your company. For Celebrity that means that their most important customers are the Elite members of the Captain's Club--that would be us. As I have mentioned before we are Elite Captain's Club members. That means we are at the top of the heap, past customer-wise. This was our 15th Celebrity Cruise. We no longer sail on any other line. We don't look at itinerary first, we don't look at price, we don't compare lines, we just see where Celebrity is going. Why? Because they treat us right. We get coupons when we board for free laundry, free internet, free lots of stuff. We get the Elite lounge at breakfast and dinner which, when we don't have the 1-2-3 package promotion, means a lot to us. When we are onboard our main contact as Captain's Club members is the Captain's Club host or hostess.
Over the years we have had some great ones. On Century we had the amazing Korrina twice. She is no longer with X but she is the epitome of a great Captain's Club hostess. She immediately introduced herself to us as we walked into the Elite lounge the first time. She remembered us whenever we saw her. She took great care of us, talking to us whenever she saw us anywhere on the ship, arranging things for us, introducing us to other Elite members. We were lucky enough to sail with her twice. Before that we had the marvelous Tanishka who also took great care of us.
On this cruise we had the horrid, Bruce (last name deleted intentionally). We first met Bruce on the first sea day (3rd day of the cruise) when we went to the Elite breakfast lounge. As we entered he walked up to us and said, "Sea pass cards" so he could check if we were Elite members. Not an introduction, not a how do you do, just a "Sea Pass Cards." After we were done with our coffee, we (thinking we were meeting a traditionally wonderful Captain's Club host) approached Bruce to introduce ourselves. He had put out some magazines and newspapers and I was carrying one of them as we walked towards him. We were (at that point) nowhere near the exit of the Tuscan Grille (where the event was being held) and Bruce (instead of introducing himself) said, "You can't take that out of this room," pointing to the magazine I was holding.
It happened that I was going to ask him if I could buy/beg/borrow or steal that magazine at the end of the cruise but he was adamant that under no circumstances could I have it. He only had a few (there were something like 40 magazine out on tables and I never in five times saw anyone but me looking at them) and they were needed for future events. I said I would trade him for a number of replacements as this magazine was four months old and I knew I wouldn't find it again (it's a cooking mag) on a newsstand. But again, I was told no. So I set it down and we left. In all this, Bruce never introduced himself to us. I need to add here that Korrina, Tanishka and pretty much any other CC host we have ever met would have handed me the magazine right then.
We still introduced ourselves to Bruce and attempted to engage him in conversation. This happened on four other occasions. I have to say that Bruce still hasn't introduced himself to me and I was on the ship for two weeks. And I wasn't the only person that this happened to. We heard numerous times from other Elite members that they felt totally disrespected and ignored by Bruce. Once one of our table mates who were not Elites but first time cruisers told us they had gone to his desk to ask a question about joining Captain's Club and what their benefits might be and they were dismissed with a "it's on the Celebrity website." They told me that I told them more about the Captain's Club in one minute than they heard from him in 10 minutes of conversation.
He was downright rude to me on numerous occasions. I would walk by him on the ship and say hello. He would not even acknowledge me. One of my fellow Martini Mates said they thought Bruce should be transferred to Miami HQ. I don't. I think he should be fired. He is by far the worst Celebrity employee I have ever met. He does not belong on the Eclipse. If he was the host on my first Elite cruise, we would be sailing on HAL now but I know he was just an aberration. Can't wait to sail with a better Captain's Club host on our next cruise and I know that I will as no one could be worse than Bruce.
By the way, I know that on many cruises the Captain's Club host/hostess is very overworked. Some trans-Atlantic or Hawaii cruises will have hundreds of Elite members. On our Century cruise to Hawaii in November there had been more than 500. But on this cruise we had heard there were less than 200 so there was NO EXCUSE!
As Inigo Montoya would say, "Let me sum up."
It was a great cruise. We loved it. Those two little ugly things didn't mar it they just need to be corrected. And I know they can't fix the buffet (because they like it that way) but they can make sure I never have to endure Bruce again.