This was our second cruise on Eclipse following a Med cruise last September, and if anything the standards of service and overall cruise quality were higher, not by much because it would be hard to improve on the Eclipse cruise experience, but just enough to notice.
The standard of cleanliness in the public areas was excellent; maybe it was influenced by the small Noro outbreak on the previous cruise and housekeeping's desire to ensure it did not return, whatever the reason the ship was spotless.
Even the entertainment, where I have in the past felt Celebrity were inferior to P&O, seemed to have improved; although they are still a bit stingy in only having 3 production shows over a 14 night cruise, but this was compensated for by the theme nights which were very entertaining.
From Captain Dimitrios Manetas down to the most junior cleaner the crew and hotel staff goes out of their way to make you feel very special.
This was our first cruise to the Baltic and this itinerary was just about ideal, with the exception of Zeebrugge all the ports are very interesting and worth visiting, and the only other criticism I would make is having 2 sea days at the end of the cruise. Replacing Zeebrugge with Oslo on the way out and maybe an earlier departure from Copenhagen and a short stop at Kristiansand on the return trip, would be a significant improvement.
My wife uses a wheelchair so all our shore excursion comments relate to the ease and suitability of using a wheelchair. Eclipse itself scores highly for wheelchair friendliness there are only a few areas which might be improved; easier access to the lower 'stalls' seating in the theatre and more space for wheelchairs at the ends of the rows, plus some tweaking of access in the shops and some bar areas. My wheelchair friendliness score would be 9.5/10.
Zeebrugge ' Shuttle required to Blankenberge, $18pp return. This is a commercial port and you need to take a shore excursion or take a shuttle bus to Blankenberge, which is only a small resort, in order to see any sights. Not really our favourite port. We had booked a tour to Bruges but with a forecast of rain and also losing an hours sleep as we put our clocks forward to CEST we decided to cancel it, fortunately the Shore excursion desk were able to re-sell our tickets and Celebrity gave us a full refund, even though we were inside the 48 hour cancellation notice.
Warnemunde ' No shuttle required. Most cruise lines use this port as a gateway to Berlin, but there is a 3 hour coach trip each way which makes it a long day. Warnemunde itself is quite a busy tourist town so we went ashore to do our own thing. The main route into town is via an underpass under the railway lines but it has some steps which makes it a no go for us, however about 100 metres along the riverside quay from the underpass the rail lines finish and there is a wheelchair accessible route across a car/RV park. A dogleg left across the road as you exit the car park takes you down the fish market street and straight into the tourist centre around the river front with all the harbour tour boats and plenty of restaurants, cafes and tourist shops. A pretty seaside resort but it was very windy, cloudy and quite cool the day we visited, had it been sunnier and warmer we would have enjoyed it much more; there are quite a few cobbled areas which is not ideal for wheelchairs, wheelchair suitability 6/10.
Stockholm ' Shuttle $15.00 pp. day pass, or taxi or HoHo bus. We took an accessible tour here, only a 2.5hr panoramic coach tour but the guide spoke excellent English, was quite humorous and made the tour very enjoyable. The coach used was a standard 50 seater with a lift arrangement on the nearside rear of the coach, and several seats removed to allow for wheelchair stowage. My wife can transfer to a coach seat once on board and then enjoy a normal window view. There were a couple of photo stops on the tour but my wife did not bother getting off the coach, so we have no idea how wheelchair friendly the streets are.
However the highlight of Stockholm was the sail away, we had booked the Tuscan Grill speciality restaurant that night little realising there is a 4.5hr transit of the Stockholm archipelago through thousands of islands dotted with houses, some with very narrow channels through which the cruise ship slowly threads its way to the open sea and Helsinki; followed in our case by P&O's Arcadia and Fred Olsen's Black Watch, which enhanced the scenic view. The evening had blue skies and bright sunshine and Tuscan Grill has panoramic windows all around the stern of deck 5 on Eclipse. So we were treated to a spectacular sail away.
Helsinki ' Local shuttle bus Euro 10.00pp return. We took another accessible panoramic coach tour here, approximately 2 hrs. but sufficient to see a significant amount of the city, the coach was similar to that in Stockholm, but the lift was housed in one of the stairs in the mid coach steps which seemed a good space saving feature. The tour made a couple of photo stops which again my wife declined, one was to the Sibelius park where there is a monument to the composer, the other the main square which is dominated by the Lutheran Cathedral of Helsinki. It was a beautiful sunny day which made the city look very appealing, but the harbour area looked very busy and the pavements did not look very wheelchair friendly. Wheelchair suitability 6/10.
St Petersburg ' No shuttle bus but you need to be on a tour to go ashore. This is likely to be the highlight of the cruise for most people and we took the two half day (4.5 hrs.) sightseeing wheelchair tours that Celebrity offers. Neither tour includes any inside museum visits, but we preferred the sightseeing anyway. These were both in Mercedes Sprinter mini coaches with lift access at the rear, where the w/c users could transfer to coach seats or 2 could remain in their chairs; on the city tour there were 3 w/c users making 6 passengers in total and on the Peterhof gardens tour only 4 of us in total. I imagine that Celebrity make little or no commission on these excursions.
The city tour ended up as only a 3.5 hr. tour since passport control at the port involved a 45 minute queue, but it was still excellent value. There were numerous stops where all the w/c users debussed and we managed to see quite a lot of the city, but there were little or no dropped kerbs so w/c sightseeing was limited to the immediate vicinity of the coach stop. But it was a beautiful sunny day with morning temps. getting into the high 20's C, so perhaps it was best to limit w/c pushing.
The major stop is at the Peter & Paul fortress, this is worth a visit but the site is not very wheelchair friendly, there are some flat paved paths but they don't cover the entire site, the remainder is either large or small cobbles where I eventually resorted to pulling the w/c backwards. Wheelchair suitability 5/10.
The second day tour was to Peterhof gardens which are approximately a 1 hr. journey from the ship, but traffic dependant, fortunately our ship's visit was over Saturday and Sunday so traffic was fairly light and it only took about 45 minutes going, but over an hour on the return.
There is quite a steep pathway down from the car park to the main gardens, one is long and straight, the other doglegs and has several cobbled drainage channels crossing it, both are very fine cindered paths, as are most of the paths around the gardens. The majority of the gardens are level and pushing the w/c was fairly easy, however the push back to the car park was quite strenuous. The gardens are full of fountains and gold leaf covered statues, it is a little bit Disneyfied but that's not such a bad thing. They are extremely popular with the locals and our visit being on a warm summer Sunday meant they were very busy indeed. The gardens themselves are probably worth 7/10 on my wheelchair scale, except for the mountain climb back up to the car park.
Tallin Estonia ' You can walk into town approx. 20 mins. Or local shuttle Euro 7.5 pp. return. We had booked another half day panoramic city tour; the transport again was a Mercedes Sprinter mini coach with 6 of us on board. Tallin has heavily cobbled streets so we only did 2 w/c stops, the first at the site of an Estonian defeat by the Danes is down a steep badly paved and cobbled track, backwards was the only way to get back up to the coach. The coach also stopped at a lookout point above the old town, during which my wife stayed in the coach, then the final stop is at the song festival grounds, where the Estonians gather every 5 years to sing nationalist songs. Wheelchair suitability 5/10.
Copenhagen ' Shuttle bus $15.00 day pass or lots of HoHo buses, but it is easy to walk into town. Fortunately we were berthed at Langelinie pier rather than in the Freeport area itself and it's a fairly easy 10 min. walk to the little mermaid, and then a further 10-15 min. to Stroget, which is the main pedestrianized shopping and tourist area. If you walk to the end of Stroget and then continue on Fredericksberggade Street this takes you to City Hall square which is opposite Tivoli gardens. We did not go that far but made our way through the old streets to Kings garden and from there back to the ship. Disabled toilets are always a major problem when not on a ships tour, but we found one in a rather stylish chocolate caf'/shop in Stroget with a very friendly and helpful staff. Wheelchair suitability 7/10.
Any ships shore excursions tend to be more expensive than your own arranged tours but for accessible tours we thought Celebrity's prices were very reasonable. The five half day tours we did, ranging from 2.0 hrs. to 4.5 hrs. each, cost just under '500 for both of us, with the two St Petersburg ones being the most expensive at just over '70pp. Not too bad especially when you take account of the '50 the shuttles would have cost at the three ports, and that you need to take tours in Russia in order to get ashore. In addition I am not certain that accessible shuttles for full time wheelchair users would have been available in all the ports.
When we first booked this cruise we thought it was unlikely we would do it again so we needed to see as much as possible this time, however we enjoyed it so much that we might well consider another Baltic cruise in the future.