Review of 2 week cruise to Baltic on Celebrity Eclipse:
Southampton Zeebrugge Warnemunde Stockholm Helsinki- St Petersburg Tallinn Copenhagen Southampton
Our cruise history is not that extensive, this was only cruise number six, but we had previously sailed on Eclipse's older sister ship (Solstice) on an Eastern Med itinerary in 2009. So all the features (and quirks) of the ship soon returned to us after a few hours on board.
But our most recent trip was across the Atlantic to New York on the QM2 last December. Thus it was that experience that was most prominently in our mind when weighing up the pros & cons of the Celebrity offering.
The ship was completely full for this cruise. So around 2800 passengers. A large mix of nationalities and ages. The majority were British (as would be expected on a cruise ex-UK) but several hundred Americans as well. Somewhat more surprising (well to me anyway) was that we were told that there were over 400 Mexicans on board, so Spanish speakers were certainly in evidence as you walked round the ship.
Not completely sure on how many children were on board, but believe it was around 4-500, which once again is what you'd expect at the height of the summer holiday season, but probably less than you'd get on an equivalent Mediterranean cruise.
Very quick and straightforward (certainly compared to P&O and Cunard previously at Southampton) and we were on board by 1.30pm having dropped the car off less than an hour previously.
Handed a complimentary glass of fizz as we boarded which was a nice touch, and then left to find our way to our cabins (which were ready by that time).
One comment: The Safety drill I thought was far from slick considering the crew have to do it every 2 weeks. Obviously most of the passengers have cruised before so know the routine but it all seemed very perfunctory.
Cabins: We had 2 balcony cabins on the Hump (8267 & 8269) which we'd picked because they had good views fore & aft, and were also very convenient for the main lifts, which must have saved us several miles of walking over the 2 weeks. (Very handy for example to be able to get into the Oceanview Cafe in less than a minute to be able to bring a drink and a snack back). (The lifts are divided from the cabin corridor by another wall so there in no noise at all (in the cabin) from either the lifts or the Central Atrium area in general).
We were 5 people spread between the 2 cabins, so obviously space was a little tight but not uncomfortably so. (We've always travelled before with 4 to one cabin, so this was definitely a step up for us this time!) But storage space was adequate and we appreciated the cupboards above the bed, as well as the space under the bed for storing suitcases and bags. The bathroom is one of Celebrity's strong points (especially the shower which is far larger than average) and it's glass fronted cupboards (and clear shower door) give it a very attractive feel.
Having the balcony was a big plus point on this cruise (where the weather was kind to us and the scenery, especially approaching Stockholm, magnificent), and having adjacent cabins we were able to get the divider opened up between the balconies which was well worth doing as it gave us a much larger space to use. The furniture (2 reclinable chairs & table) supplied is also attractive, and definitely a step up from the plastic stuff I believe you get on other cruise lines)
This is a big ship and with over 4000 passengers & crew on board you would expect it to feel crowded. But I have to say at most times this isn't the case and it's easy to find a quiet spot inside or out. (Although I say quiet, but one slight niggle with Celebrity is their insistence on background music being constantly played in all areas. I think this is something they should cut back on.)
The only pinch points are the elevators at peak times, but even then you rarely had to wait more than a minute or two.
Eclipse is an attractive ship on the inside. It is not overly glitzy and the vast amount of original art spread around makes adds interest to the stairwells and walls. (I especially liked the Jeff Koons Scottie dog in the Ensemble Lounge and the video loop of the Diving ladies in the Ocean View Cafe).
The central atrium (and associated bars & cafes) works well, and the theatre is impressive with good sightlines (unless you end up behind one of the few pillars!)
The secondary entertainment space (Celebrity Central) is less attractive as it has to fulfil a number of functions (Talks, Quizes, Film showings) and so therefore comes across as a fairly bland functional space. I missed the dedicated cinema that QM2 had.
Outside the ship (to my eyes at least) is much less attractive. I really miss the wraparound Promenade deck, as I like to be able to completely walk around the deck outside. (Eclipse's deck 5 outside space is mostly obscured by lifeboats and doesn't go round the bow or stern). The jogging track on Deck 12 doesn't really fulfil the same function as it snakes its way between the sun loungers!. I know a dedicated Promenande desk seems to be a dying breed that doesn't get built into the newer ships but I still think it's a pity.
The outdoor pools are fairly small on Eclipse, and they were often full. The indoor poll (being Adults only) was much quieter.
I like the (much discussed) Lawn on the top decks, and enjoyed both playing Boules on it and sitting on it (wrapped in a rug!) listening to the Jazz band one night as we left port.
We were on First Sitting in the Moonlight Sonata MDR, and ate there all but 2 nights. The food was of a high standard although we all felt that the ratio of meat to vegetables was somewhat skewed to the former. Hence we ended up ordering main side dishes to supplement what was missing form the main entrees. Overall we felt that it wasn't quite up to the standards of Cunard last year. The service however from our two waiters (Havesh & Ramon) was excellent. They rapidly learnt both our names and our likes & dislikes (Coke & Juice for our boys for example appeared without asking each evening). I should also mention our excellent sommelier Ronaldo - who as well as his normal wine duties was also a whiz at magic tricks which he demonstrated at the end of the meal most evenings.
Probably a good time to touch on the prices of wine (and other drinks). To UK eyes the drinks prices on Celebrity are high, especially so as they've all been increased by 15% to include the service charge. I'm not any kind of wine connoisseur but I was generally spending $35-$40 on a bottle at dinner (occasionally pushing the boat out to $50-60 on a couple of nights) and this was for wine that would probably cost 8-12 in the supermarket here. But we were on holiday so I tried not to worry about it too much. The price of spirits (eg a Gin & Tonic at $7) was less of a concern partly because we weren't drinking that many but also because of the huge measures serverd, at least doubles. We also put one of our sons on the soda package which we calculated was worth it once you get past 3 cans a day (which he easily managed)
We had a couple of the speciality coffess (In Cafe al Bacio) which were very nice, but generally the free coffee served at the end of dinner (or obtainable form the Oceanview Cafe) wad fine.
We didn't try any of the Speciality Restaurants (we did hear good reports of Qsine though, and they always looked busy when we passed) although we did eat at Bistro on 5 for one lunch. (Good crepes, but we didn't feel the need to go again)
We generally had breakfast and lunch in the Ocenview Cafe. This could get very busy at peak times, which made finding a table somewhat of a game but it wasn't a big issue. The layout of the self service counters (with duplication of the main ones) was good and certainly in comparison to the equivalent on the QM2 it worked well.
The breakfast selections were vast, and having the Chef's stations to do omelettes and eggs adds a personal touch.
The lunch buffet selections were good and there was always the pizza or pasta to fall back on if you didn't see anything else you fancy.
We ate there for dinner a couple of nights (when we were late back from being ashore) and didn't feel short-changed by not having the MDR menu, as there was plenty to choose from.
The table clearing service up there was excellent. Everyone was obviously keen to avoid another Norovirus outbreak (Eclipse had one a couple of cruises previously) and everything appeared spotless. Hand sanitation was also much in evidence at the entrance to restaurants and cafe.
Can't fault the attitude of any of the crew we came across. They all had a cheery greeting for you everytime you passed (which I know we Brits can sometimes find a bit false but it didn't upset me at all)
We didn't see our room steward much, but he seemed to mange to fit in with our irregular timetable and cleaned and tidied the cabin when we were out. He even found time to knock up a couple of towel animals some evenings!
Initially I thought Ian Cresswell the Cruise Director was going to be very annoying, but his relentlessly chirpy style grew on me, and he was certainly very visible at many events around the ship.
The Captain was quite the opposite and apart from a very terse 10am announcement each day was very low key. (Thankfully however that daily announcement was about the only one that Celebrity did. They eschew the constant use of the PA system to tell passengers about activities and rely on you to read the daily newsletter)
The nightly shows in the main theatre were a mixed selection. The Cirque type shows that the whole company put on were excellent with some very talented gymnasts and trapeze artists. The company shows where singing & dancing were more to the fore I thought were less polished and were not up to what we've experienced on P&O and Princess.
The individual headliners were on the whole excellent. We especially liked the comedians (Jeff Stevenson & Mike Doyle) although they obviously skewed their material to the predominantly British audience. The singer/pianist Claire Maidin was also excellent
The other musical groups performing around the ship were pretty good. Special mention should go to the Top Notch party band who were generally called on to perform at the bottom of the stairs in the Atrium most evenings. (Their 70s sessions was especially well attended with even passengers in the glass elevators joining in!)
We also enjoyed the dinner jazz music provided by Ray Brown Jr. and his quartet who played in the Ensemble Lounge every evening. Perry Grant was doing his act every night in Michael's Club, but 5 minutes was enough for us. I guess he's a Marmite kind of act
The activities and talks in the Celebrity Life program were very low key and not very well publicised. I think this is one area that Celebrity is weak on.
The Cruise Critic get together was well attended (up in the Sun Lounge on the first Sea Day) and it was great to put faces to the names I'd got used to over the past months.
Our sons are 12 & 16, and on this cruise Celebrity had merged both those age groups into one Teen (12-17) set. We felt that it would have been better if there was also an intermediate group covering the 12-14 age group, as the older teens have completely different requirements to the younger ones. Having said that they both made some good friends on board and took part in some of the organised activities.
The facilities for children on Celebrity are certainly less extensive than on other cruise lines (including their sister company RCL) but they are perfectly adequate as long as you're not looking for the climbing walls, flumes and zip wires that are now features on other ships.
This is one area that Celebrity certainly seem to have got cracked.
They give everyone an expected time to disembark, and before then you can have a relaxed breakfast (The Oceanview Cafe was serving until 7.45am) and then stay in your cabin until the appointed time. It was then straight off the ship and out to pick up your bags which were all lined up and waiting. And as the long term car park at Southampton is only 2 minutes walk away we were soon on our way.