The itinerary, weather and cruise overall were excellent, but we did have a few niggles that I will cover below.
Embarkation at Southampton was very smooth ' well organised, no queuing and we were onboard within 20 minutes of our arrival. We took advantage of the free coach offered when we booked and everything went smoothly, both pre and post cruise. The glass of champagne or orange juice offered as you embark is a very nice touch.
We decided to avoid the queues that are normally found in the Oceanview Cafe on embarkation day and opted instead to try the Bistro on 5 for paninis and crepes instead ($5 cover charge per person). It was nice, and a good alternative on the day, but I don't think we would rush to eat there again. In our opinion there shouldn't be a cover charge for this type of food and the Bistro was never full during the whole cruise.
The cabins were ready just after 1pm. We'd had the cabin next door on our previous Eclipse cruise and so knew what to expect ' we opted for this one as we prefer the bed near to the bathroom rather than the balcony. Our cabin attendants Urel and Sheldon were excellent and everything was kept just how we like it, including my favourite choice of pillow chocolate every night.
We ate at Blu everynight except one, when we didn't care for the menu too much, and we went to the Main Dining Room instead. The service in the Main Dining Room was very good, as was the food ' more plentiful than we had been led to believe listening to some other passengers. Again Blu was outstanding ' the food at both breakfast and dinner was delicious, the service excellent and the waiters friendly and helpful, even providing items that weren't on the menu when we had a discussion the previous night regarding our favourite desserts. We used the Oceanview Cafe a couple of times for a lunchtime snack but didn't want to sit and eat in there as it's not as clean as it should be (dirty plates were left on tables for a long time ' maybe more staff are needed at peak times). Although there are hand sanitizer stations at the entrance to all restaurants and public lounges, and crew members trying to get you to use the hand sanitizer at the Oceanview Cafe, it is surprising just how many people simply ignore them or walk straight past the stations. Personally I think this is something Celebrity should make compulsory upon entering the restaurants. The kids in the Kids Clubs are taught that keeping their hands clean is number 1 priority ' it's a shame the adults don't set them a good example. In fact, one of our Cruise Critic group went down with the dreaded Norovirus a few days before the end of the cruise, which Celebrity knew about, and so I would have expected to see more of an effort made in relation to the use of the hand sanitizers.
The itinerary was wonderful, and we were luckier with the weather than the previous cruise with a similar itinerary the month before (sunshine in Iceland, low cloud/drizzle in the Faroes, Geiranger and Alesund). We had privately arranged tours booked at all the ports except Alesund and Stavanger, with a fantastic group of people we met via Cruise Critic. All the tours were excellent, both at the planning stage and on the day itself. In Reykjavik we did the Golden Circle Tour and Blue Lagoon through IG Tours (be warned, it was a shambles getting off the ship on the first day with very long queues, so if you have a private tour booked, allow plenty of time). In Akureyri we did the Myvatn Highlights tour through Fjallasyn. In the Faroe Islands we did an islands tour through 62N. In Geiranger we had a scenic minibus tour to Mt Dalsnibba in the morning and a fjord boat trip in the afternoon. We were lucky enough to be able to disembark using the new SeaWalk at Geiranger instead of having to tender ' I think it's only been in operation for a few weeks ' it's a real bonus, especially when there are other ships in port at the same time. And in Olden we had transport to the Briksdal Glacier ' the energetic hiked to the Glacier and the less-energetic took the Troll Cars. In Alesund and Stavanger we just got off the ship and walked around the town at our own pace to see the sights.
Now to the niggles. We like to eat late and then go to 1 of the bars for a few relaxing drinks before turning in around 1am. We found that we were 'chasing' the bars to find one which was still open to have a drink ' even the Martini bar was shut on some nights by midnight due to lack of customers. The Passport bar, which is supposed to be open until midnight, starting taking the bottles of spirits from the bar into the store room just after 11pm one night and someone who came to the bar had to ask if they were still serving. This action discouraged people to drink there and made us feel like we were expected to go to bed to sleep instead. Most nights we had to venture up to the Sky Lounge to get a drink and even there they turned the lights on and turning the music off once the entertainment had finished at midnight. We heard of some people being asked to leave one night just after 12:30am as they wanted to close the bar. We ventured into Quasar (the disco) on a couple of nights, but again there were only a handful of people at the bar (those who were chasing the bars to have a drink) and no-one on the dance floor. Maybe Celebrity wanted to discourage those people with the free drinks packages (offered as a promotion to passengers who booked during the last few months) from drinking too much, or maybe they just wanted to encourage people to go to bed by shutting the bars early. We are not big drinkers (and didn't have the free drinks package) but we were very disappointed by this aspect of the cruise and it spoilt our overall cruise experience.
When you read the other Celebrity reviews on Cruise Critic, you will see that it isn't known for its brilliant entertainment, and it's the same on the Eclipse. We aren't big show goers but from what we heard from outside the theatre, and from other passengers, we didn't miss much. The party band, Top Notch, were no better than karaoke singers with out of tune musical accompaniments supporting them, but unfortunately they were the main act in the Sky Lounge between 10pm and midnight. There was another band, London's Calling, who were in our opinion so much better but who only ever seemed to perform in the Grand Foyer and only once in the Sky Lounge. There was also a classical trio, 2 violinists and a cello player who were good. Sam Kane and Bobby Davro were special guest acts brought onto the ship during the later part of the cruise and they were good too. I know it's difficult to please all tastes, but I do think this is one area that Celebrity are poor on and need to review.
I did highlight the points regarding the bars and entertainment on the Attention To Detail card you are encouraged to complete whilst onboard, and to be fair, the Cruise Director, Sue Denning, did ring me to discuss further. I'm not sure if anything will change on future cruises, but at least I know the card was read.
Interestingly, some friends of ours were on the Celebrity Equinox recently (their first time with Celebrity and at our recommendation) and they were disappointed with their experience for a number of reasons, including the poor entertainment and early closing of venues. One of them likes to use the Casino and was asked to leave at 1am as she was the only person in there and they wanted to close. Must be new Celebrity policies but they are not good for business.
Disembarkation at Southampton was again smooth and we were off the ship at 8am and at Gatwick by 9.30am (shame we didn't have a flight until 5pm but that's nothing to do with Celebrity).
We will, without doubt, cruise with Celebrity again, as we love the Solstice class of ships, Aqua class in particular, and the crew who are always friendly and polite. But based on this cruise experience, we think it's time to broaden our horizons to other cruise lines to see what we might be missing.