We had previously sailed with Royal Caribbean and wanted to experience Celebrity's 5 star rating. Embarkation was very smooth and we were presented with a glass of champagne on boarding. Initial impressions were of a ship offering a restrained style of decor and lacking the atmosphere and heart that was immediately apparent on Jewel of the Seas. We sat in the atrium on deck 3 and the area outside Quasar and Celebrity Central while waiting for access to our stateroom; everything seemed a little impersonal somehow.
We were pleased with our stateroom on deck 9. The balcony was a must for the fjords and the bathroom was good; nice shower and plenty of storage. It's a shame the same could not be said of the cabin. There were too few drawers. Tea and coffee making tray was a welcome touch. However, when we stepped on to the balcony, we were met by a pair of ladies knickers lying on the floor next to the table; after a phone call to guest relations an embarrassed room attendant hurried in muttering apologies. He thought they might have been washed along the balconies when they were being hosed down. But they shouldn't have been there in the first place!
We were disappointed to find that there was no sailaway on the pier; onboard music yes, but nothing else. This was a feature of the entire cruise; we arrived and departed like a huge long distance coach.
When we booked the cruise a year ago, we elected to pay our gratuities up front. We didn't know at the time, but this put us in Celebrity Select dining. We thought this would be an advantage, but sadly no. There was a long queue of confused diners outside the Moonlight Sonata on the first evening trying to understand that Select diners could not book a table for the whole cruise, but only 1 day in advance. This meant that you were at a different table and served by different waiters each night. No chance to get to know your waiters as we did on RC. Food in the Sonata was good, but there were too few new additions to the menu each day. There was no live music in the Moonlight Sonata, unlike the main restaurant on the Jewel of the Seas. All areas on the Eclipse were spotless.
Entertainment during the cruise was below par. After a day spent ashore, the evening's offerings are important. The cruise director Ian Cresswell with his aggressively smiley patter was always trying too hard; I got the feeling he could do with spending some time on the lower rungs of the Celebrity career ladder. In no way was the entertainment 5 star. The first evening's keynote show was disappointing; the opening spot comprised a string trio playing from one of the balconies next to the stage, and the rest of the show was not much better. There were only 3 full shows out of the 14 nights; one of them, entitled 'Edge' featured a backdrop of columns of horizontal colured tubes which flashed and changed colour. This was effective, but after an hour it made me close my eyes to relieve the strain. Peter Grant, a UK vocalist was good as was the Ray Brown Jr jazz quartet. The Top Notch party band sadly did not live up to their name. The 2 female singers were enthusiastic, but not always in tune, and whenever they played until midnight on deck 3, I felt sorry for people in adjacent staterooms who wanted an early night; their PA was unnecessarily loud. We could hear them with our door closed on deck 9. Hilary O'Neil was a comedy vocal entertainer who was one of 3 UK comedians on offer. Much of the material was aimed at UK audiences; I felt sorry for the large Brazilian group on board or indeed any non-UK cruiser. Rock &Roll comedy duo Kimika appeared for one night in the theatre. I was embarrassed beyond words. They had no right to be offered on a 5 star ship supposedly offering 'modern luxury.' Several audience members walked out. The cruise director said to me that Kimika was an act you loved or hated. Many thanks for the profound comment Ian, but they were not 5 star entertainment. 'Eclipse-the Show' was a very good theatrical circus performance with aerial trapeze which flew over the front of the audience. Mick Miller was another UK comedian who performed in the ship's theatre. Remembered for his appearances on ITV's 'The Comedians', he was a breath of fresh air and proved popular with the audience. The hypnotist Christopher Caress was on offer during a stop in Norway. After a slow start he managed to persuade enough people to join in on stage and was amusing. The Chinese magician was extremely good. On the penultimate evening 'Ovations' was a walk through Broadway and West End musical hits. The final show was something of an anti-climax. It comprised a video of the cruise, a performance by the resident orchestra and a return visit from two of the most popular artists, namely Mick Miller and a pianist, Katie Clarke. It made for a curiously downbeat evening, at odds with what should be the climax of a cruise.
During the day the Card Room and Library quickly filled up. Daytime activities lacked imagination. The talks were interesting, but if you wanted bourbon, single malt and wine tasting, you were in heaven. Maybe this was a nod to modern luxury.
The ports of call were good, particularly those in the Norwegian Fjords. Disembarkation at Reykjavik can only be described as chaos. Only one gangway was in use. This meant that most tours were an hour late. A queue to disembark stretched from the Central lounge to the gangway. 2 gangways were in use on our return. Apparently it was due to the tides. Come on, Celebrity, the berthing was booked many months ago. It shouldn't have happened. Too often the paddle holder on our trips left the ship and/or coach and strode off, leaving us to guess the way. This was a particular problem at Reykjavik and Flam. Our Flam trip had an 8.15am meeting time, so we were perturbed to see that the newsletter announced our arrival in Flam as 9am. I visited Shore Excursions; I was told 'it's a misprint'. No apology.
Disembarkation was excellent; this is something RC have organised extremely well too. We left the ship at 7.15am and were leaving the car park 30 minutes later. Thank goodness for Norway; the fjords did much to ease our disappointment.
We thought the jump from RC's 4 stars to Celebrity's 5 would be worth it. Sadly not. Celebrity's preoccupation with modern luxury means that a certain warmth is lacking on board ship.We met several Celebrity Elite cruisers who admitted that standards had slipped, but had much to lose in terms of loyalty points if they took their business elsewhere. On RC we always felt that we had got to know the crew; this was not the case on the Eclipse. This feeling was summed up when we were served by a female waiter in the Ensemble Lounge. She had a small torch in her pocket which shone an image of a thumb on the wall. She asked jokingly if we were ok; should the thumb be up or down? Altogether she was a happy soul, eager to do her best. A couple of nights later she served us again. I jokingly asked where the torch was. She replied that she was no longer using it; if she was seen using it again she might lose her job. This summed up the atmosphere around the ship. Everything was cool, efficient to a certain degree, but not too familiar.
Not very close, Celebrity, and certainly no cigar.