We read all the reviews well before taking this cruise to Iceland, Faroe islands, Geiranger Fjord, Flam, Stavanger and Kristiansand, so we were really looking forward to that 'modern luxury'. We had already been on various RCI cruises and are Diamond so wanted to retain that, and Celebrity lets us use that status as Elite which is why we decided to try them out.
The on-line check in is pretty much the same as we were used to, but did notice that we now have to print our own tickets (more cost cutting?) but no matter all the paper work was done in advance of the day (including ordering the luggage tags) so we were prepared.
We did find the Cruise Critic boards a great source of not just information but a very good way of 'breaking the ice', organisation and a great laugh.
The day of sailing we left early (not too early) as we only live down the coast we also like to stop half way for a nice cup of tea and a toasted tea cake. This year we even managed to sit outside the sun was so strong. However we did pack the waterproof gear in anticipation of our itinerary.
We arrived earlier than expected as the roads into Southampton were easy for early July, and entered the port at about 1040. We were then directed to the car park directly (a bit surprising as we were expecting to drop our luggage off first) just in front of the ship. Unloaded the cases and took them to the vans that were being used to take them to the ship. I always take my suits by hand as nearly lost them one year as they were being loaded... The directions into the terminal were very good and the staff pointing you the correct way. Again as Elite check-in went nice and smoothly and only sat down for ten minutes before we were called to board the ship. The normal photo opportunity was there, but as always, you never do look your best after a long journey so we gave that a miss. Once we had passed security on board, we were given a glass of bubbly (a nice touch) and then directed to the buffet style dining room.
Like other lines, cleanliness is of high importance and we are more than happy to use the facilities offered to us and ALWAYS (unlike some people we noticed) used the hand sanitizer. The food was plentiful and a lot of choice (however we did think that this did not change very much over the length of the cruise) with all the staff helpful and pleasant about it. There are signs that the ship has been around a couple of years but always always clean. After sitting down enjoying our meal and that feeling of 'were on holiday', the exploration phase.
A couple of things that I wanted to take advantage of whilst on board, was the real grass and the hot glass show. However the grass was only available to use on a limited basis due to the wonderful weather we had and again because of said wonderful weather, I didn't get up to see the glass show. Just to explain, after sailing we had sun, closely followed by fog, more fog, rain and fog, rain, rain etc. only getting real sun the Wednesday before getting off again on the Saturday... but you can't do much about mother nature can you.
No doubt the ship is very nice, with leather seats in the sky lounge and most seat too big for us, we got lost in them. The art around the ship is plentiful but we did feel the decor is parts of the ship was rather dull (not our taste).
After a good look around (complete with supplied map) the broadcast was made that cabins were ready, so off we went to investigate. What a pleasant surprise, our inside cabin (we chose this as our trip up north meant long days and little darkness) was larger than what we are used to. As normal a huge bed, big enough to swallow us both... nice flat screen TV, and the shower area a good size with little bottles of shower gel, shampoo etc. supplied. We did have to wait a while for all of our cases to arrive, typically the first one that turned up was the one full of shoes... however no problems that all did arrive and we unpacked in time for our safety brief. With only 5 small drawers under the TV and two cupboards above the bed (great if you are tall like us), stowage space is limited. Our cabin steward introduced himself and had already left us our excursion tickets an animal made out of a towel and some flowers on the table.
It was soon time for our safety brief, and we were there in plenty of time, not a lot of space to fit us all in but we could hear what was being said and could see at least one screen (there were plenty around) to see the video. All seemed to go well.
Time for our first 'real' meal on-board...
After getting changed 'smart casual' (with three formal nights the rest being smart casual) we entered the Moonlight Sonata dining room and sat at our table not far from the entrance. Watching our fellow cruisers enter, we did begin to ponder others interpretation of smart casual. We were on a table of eight, and all turned up (not the norm on the first night), and we all introduced ourselves and over the cruise were one of the last to leave (another good table). Our waiters introduced themselves and the adventure begins. We all ordered and awaited our choices. As normal bread and iced water were constantly topped up, which was good as we did get the impression over the cruise that somebody was missing... in our case I think two were, the head waiter - who didn't show his face once, and I seem to remember a set of tables used to have a runner who went to get the trays full of food... or was this a dream, but the courses seems to turn up at regular intervals and not by how fast you got rid of course you were currently on at the time. Saying that it didn't put us off going, as we do think the evening meal is the main place to make some cruise friends. Overall the meals were nice but nothing extra special.. I did get my lobster on the last night. The overall choice didn't change that much and no healthy option or light choice. We didn't keep sitting in the same places as we all wanted to talk to all of the table and with the noise levels in the dining room we found we couldn't hear all the time, this I think confused our waiters as at times we got the wrong course, not a problem we just swapped it around. Another thing to remember is that us brits do like our vegetables and had to order a side dish every night to get a decent portion otherwise the brussel sprout cut in half was not enough for me..
Via the Cruise Critic website we signed up for the meet and greet, and this was on our first sea day. Well worth attending as it gives you the chance to meet those likeminded cruisers. We met our quiz team here, ironically a couple from the cabin next to us and a TV star.
The ship is designed for nice weather, with lots of space on the upper decks to enjoy the day, however after the first day at sea we didn't get any sun, so everybody was below decks. Finding somewhere to sit was on occasion, hard work. With the bars with not a lot of seating, if you arrived at a busy time you probably ended up standing.
The bars are lovely and the bartenders have a great memory, every evening we would go down and it was not long before our drinks were waiting for us to arrive. With the American style of spirit dosage, the price of the drinks (5 to 8 dollars each) I thought reasonable. On that theme, do visit the duty free shop and get your litre bottles there, unless you can get a very good price ashore, not on our visits though.
A mixed experience. Our first port, Reykjavik, a two day affair for us. We decided to take a trip the second day as we didn't want to miss our evening meal (not due back until much later) so wanted to see the city. Good choice as far as the weather was concerned as it was the better of the two days - we only got a bit wet. The local authority put on busses for the round trip, at a cost, which if you purchased in the tourist office ashore in Icelandic krona, worked our cheaper. However getting ashore was chaos.. With lots of excursions going off and the rest trying to rush ashore the single gangway just didn't cope. Nearly fights in the queue after various bodies trying to take advantage of spaces in the lines. This may have been a problem caused by the local authority rather than the organisation of the ship - the jury is out on this one. The other ports we had no problem getting ashore just getting the transport to actually move.. To explain. Our Flam trip was delayed by half an hour, which we were informed about before the cruise and again whilst on-board, but a family that were booked didn't turn up, so we left the theatre at the departure time and waited on the bus... and waited... and waited, eventually this family arrived, with no word.. So we were playing catch-up for the rest of the trip.
Akureyri (second port in Iceland)
After a nice relaxing breakfast we went ashore as we had no excursions booked. Instantly put on our waterproof tops, put up the umbrella and proceeded to the hub of town. Well after one hour after walking the length of the shops (not that it took very long) we were both soaked, cold and fed up, we returned to the ship. We would have stayed ashore and found the botanical gardens and sat outside and people watched or hunted for those whales, but alas due to the low cloud (fog) and rain, we couldn't see anything. Disappointed we stayed on board and entered the quizzes.
Yep you guessed it - rain.
We had to go ashore via a tender, a good service with no problems on our tender, we did hear that one did hit the jetty rather hard and pieces of fibreglass flew. Very scenic and very expensive. The shops don't open very early, so initially we had to just walk about and take some photos, yet again armed with the supplied umbrella and our waterproofs. We did find the chocolate shop but didn't make any purchase this time. We did manage to purchase most of our take home presents for our grandchildren whilst ashore as there is a good choice of souvenir shops and even found one with a sale on.
This was our second visit but a few years ago, so wanted to see the town as on our last visit we did go on a trip. A dull start to the day so we decided to visit the Maritime Museum closely followed by the Canning Museum as entrance fee to one included the other. We found it very interesting and worth the visit. Retuned back on-board for lunch and back ashore again to attack the shops and the sun actually came out to greet us. A lovely day sat by the lake watching the ducks and just chilling.
What a beautiful town, however it could really be anywhere in europe, except the prices and language. This was the ONLY port that welcomed the ship on arrival with the tourist board (very helpful whilst planning our cruise) arranging local musicians in traditional costume on the quay side for us. Which was great to see. We decided to walk following the route on the map supplied to us on arrival and take in the sights. I must warn you that the public toilets are rather expensive at 10kr or 1euro and only takes the correct money. We stopped off at a cafe for a diet coke and lemonade and that cost 9... be warned. There is the availability of the 'land train' which takes you into the shopping area and back for a fee, but we didn't use it.
We go for the pre-paid option, but for the first time, didn't get anything to hand out on the last night (more cost cutting?) which I think, is the reason we never saw our head waiter - they already know they are getting ours so why bother, or am I just being a cynic.
On this cruise we had over 400 passengers on a conference, which seems to be the way some lines are going to top up those funds. The 400.. took over the Sky lounge 13 out of 14 evenings on this cruise and the result of that is that the normal Elite event in the evenings just didn't happen, instead we had drinks vouchers, three each, which we could exchange in SOME bars for a limited drinks list. Not that we ever used our full allowance, but we did lose out on meeting our fellow Elite members and having somewhere to just chill, something I am already looking forward to on our next cruise. To us, it looked like the crew were bending over backwards to appease the 400 to the detriment of the rest of the passengers. On their own, some were very polite but this was not the norm, we found that they would not reply when we said good morning in the lifts etc. and they would not make way when they walking one way and us the other. On numerous occasions I had to just stop where I was as I just couldn't go anyway as the way was totally block by some of the 400.
After spending 25 years in the RN, I firmly believe that the ships company takes the lead from the captain. The said captain that we only saw the once. The only opportunity to get a photograph with the captain was on the very last sea day on the grass not in formal attire... I know the captain does take us into port, and on this cruise we did have a lot of fog whilst at sea, but on other cruises we saw the captain on a daily basis just walking through the ship. So the overall 'feel' from the crew was not quite right, it seemed there was an undercurrent, maybe it is because of being under staffed, I am not sure.
The good points.
Umbrella in the cabin
No main broadcast every 5 mins in our cabin
The not so good points
The 400 on the 'conference'
Lack of lounges
Stowage space in the cabin
To end, we did enjoy the cruise despite what mother nature decided to give us and despite the downs that we found. This was OUR view, and we have read and spoken with others that have had very good cruises on the Eclipse and this was NOT the norm. If an itinerary comes up that we could get nowhere else we would go back on the Eclipse, but for us - it's just not our cup of tea and will be staying with Royal as long as they have the cruises that we want to do. There are many cruise lines and each is different, I hope this review helps you chose the right one for you.